Enlarge / The Iowa Democratic Party's Caucus app will appear on an iPhone in front of Iowa Democratic Party headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, February 4, 2020.
Getty Images | Bloomberg
The Iowa Democratic’s catastrophic events have been hampered by a mix of technical problems and poor planning, according to a New York Times report released yesterday.
From a faulty smartphone app to a barely staffed IT help desk and an important employee who doesn't know how to use a Google spreadsheet, many problems made the process of calculating and reporting caucus results ridiculous. While most of the problems were caused on their own, the State party also suffered from a phone jam after 4chan users "made the election hotline number public and encouraged each other to" clog the lines. "
As we noted in last week's coverage, the smartphone app for reporting "stuck repeatedly when district leaders tried to submit returns."
The party officials replied by "instructing the district leaders to move to Plan B: the results will be sent to Caucus headquarters, where dozens of volunteers would enter the numbers into a secure system," the article said yesterday Times.
"But when many of these volunteers tried to log on to their computers, they made a disturbing discovery," the Times wrote. "They needed smartphones to get a code, but they had been instructed not to bring their phones to the boiler room in Des Moines."
The Times article continued:
When a flood of results from school gyms, union halls and the myriad other gathering places arrived that made the Caucuses in Iowa a world-famous model of democracy, it quickly became clear that the whole process was stalling.
The volunteers went to a replacement iPad to log into the system. Melissa Watson, the state finance director responsible for the boiler room, didn't know how to use a Google spreadsheet application that is used for data entry, democratic officials later said.
Others, desperate to review the results, asked some district leaders to email photos of their worksheets – paper forms that count the results – to a specific email address. But nobody monitored the inbox for hours. When it finally opened on Tuesday morning, there were 700 unread emails with photos that had been sent sideways. Volunteers had to stretch their necks to decipher the handwritten forms.
The volunteers apparently didn't know how to rotate pictures or used an application without this functionality.
A week after the clashes, the results are still controversial. Bernie Sanders received the most votes, but Pete Buttigieg led the delegates. The Associated Press has not identified a winner amid reports of tabular errors, and the Sanders campaign is attempting to "partially reprocess" the results.
The problematic IowaReporter mobile app was developed by a company called Shadow Inc. The app was developed on a tight schedule due to delays in caucus planning and sometimes "froze" when district leaders used it to report results, the Times wrote.
"When district chairpersons reported problems [with the app], the state party referred them to a single help desk employee who didn't always respond to calls and emails," the Times wrote.
The app was so broken that the party leaders decided to "give up the digital methods and rely on the old methods, collect data over the phone and do the calculations by hand". However, when district officials tried to call the results instead of reporting them through the broken app, "calls to the state hotline were sometimes withheld for five hours." 4chan's attempt to "plug the lines" apparently contributed to this problem.
Results collected over the phone "were full of mistakes." The Times said it was reviewing caucus data and found that "at least 10 percent of the districts appear to have misallocated their delegates based on the number of votes reported." There were errors "at every stage of the tabulation process: recording votes, calculating and assigning delegates, and entering data into the State Party database."
The Times called the fiasco "a total system breakdown that raises doubts about how critical competition in the US political calendar has been going on for years." Problems in the Iowa caucus system became more apparent this time due to new reporting requirements. For the first time, the State party publicly reported the total number of votes in the first and second votes, as well as the equivalence of state delegates reported in previous elections.
On the night of the Caucuses, Troy Price, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, told a campaign conference call that "the problem is that party officials have to collect three records from all counties for the first time," the Times wrote.
The Times report continued:
"You always had to calculate these numbers. We just ask you to report them for the first time," Jeff Weaver, Mr. Sanders' closest adviser, told Mr. Price. "If you haven't calculated these numbers all the time, it's been a scam for 100 years."
Mr. Price ended the call.