Iowa Caucus Disaster Brought Decent, If Late, Statements

Thom Weidlich 02.06.20


The crisis of the week was brought to us by the world of politics: the Great Iowa Caucus App Disaster. The debacle required prompt responses especially from the Iowa Democratic Party and the company that made the app that didn’t work. The statements were decent, but took too long.

As most everyone knows, the Democratic primary season launched Monday, Feb. 3, with the Iowa caucus. This year promised to bring the old-fashioned nominating method into the 21st century by employing a phone app for local officials to send in results from their districts.

Only the app didn’t work, and the state Democratic party couldn’t report the results. There was no explanation of what went wrong, and at first no one even seemed to know who had made the faulty app.

This company needs to go to maximum transparency right now.

John Nichols, reporter, The Nation

One truth the incident raises is that when people don’t have information, they fill the void with conspiracies. On Monday night the speculation ran rampant on Twitter and elsewhere: It was the Russians, it was the Democratic National Committee’s hatred for Bernie Sanders. That’s why crisis communications is important: to fill the void with facts.

We awoke the next morning and still had no explanation. “This company needs to go to maximum transparency right now,” John Nichols, political reporter for The Nation,said on Democracy Now! The Iowa Democratic Party also had some explaining to do, he said.

Rumor Mill

By that time, the rumor mill had at least fingered the app maker: the appropriately named Shadow Inc., a fledgling company created by operatives from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

But we still had no explanation — even the party’s twitter account went suddenly quiet. The silence was telling. Finally, at 2:16 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Shadow issued a statement via a Twitter thread (later put on its website).

Surprisingly, the messaging was pretty good. Okay, the company didn’t apologize, but it did regret (“We sincerely regret the delay in the reporting of the results”). It mentioned what it had done to address the problem (“[We] have already corrected the underlying technology issue”). It contended the problem didn’t affect caucus results.

And it explained who the heck the company was, because — and this is not a good thing — this crisis was most people’s introduction (“Shadow is an independent, for-profit technology company that contracted with the Iowa Democratic Party to build a caucus reporting mobile app, which was optional for local officials to use”).

A nonprofit called Acronym issued a statement clarifying that it invested in Shadow but didn’t provide any of the technology.

Quality Checks

State party chair Troy Price (who before the big night had touted the organization’s backup plans, haha) also put out a statement Tuesday. He said that there was no indication of a security breach, that the systems had been tested, and that quality checks Monday night showed inconsistencies of results. When they couldn’t figure out the cause, they began entering data manually. All this took time. Although all caucus results had been recorded correctly, a coding issue caused data to not be forwarded right, Price said.

But, it’s fair to say that, as of Thursday morning, we still don’t have an explanation of what happened and why we don’t have the full results.

Another concern arose because, reportedly, Nevada planned to use Shadow’s app in its upcoming caucus. The Nevada State Democratic Party released a statement to nip that one in the bud.

“NV Dems can confidently say that what happened in the Iowa caucus last night will not happen in Nevada on February 22,” Chair William McCurdy II said in the statement. “We will not be employing the same app or vendor used in the Iowa caucus.”

Crisis averted.

Photo Credit: Kevin McGovern/Shutterstock

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