Iowa caucus results delayed due to reporting 'inconsistencies' after switching to new tech system

The Iowa Democratic Party says it's "not a hack or an intrusion."
Written by Richard Nieva, Contributor

The results of the Iowa caucuses have been delayed for hours on Monday night because of a new technical system that uses a smartphone app to tabulate results.

The delay is the result of "inconsistencies" in reporting with the new process, which uses a technical system in addition to handwritten results and photos, the Iowa Democratic Party reportedly said. 

"This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion," Iowa Democratic Party communications director Mandy McClure said in a statement to CNN. "The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results."

The Iowa Democratic Party didn't respond to CNET's request for comment. The campaigns of former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana -- all campaigning in Iowa -- didn't respond to requests for comment.

The Iowa caucuses are the first major contests of the 2020 election season, crucial for presidential candidates aiming to gain momentum as they seek the Democratic nomination. Unlike a primary election, a caucus doesn't involve voters heading to a ballot box. Instead, Iowa's caucuses are more complicated, involving people moving around a room to dedicate their support to a candidate. The process happens in person at various types of locations, including gymnasiums, church basements and libraries.

The introduction of the smartphone app has drawn concerns for weeks. Cybersecurity experts worried about vulnerabilities that could come with the app and feared that a delay in the results could cause people to doubt the legitimacy of the outcome.

More broadly, technology has been under heavy scrutiny when it comes to elections. The integrity and security of elections has been a major concern since the 2016 US presidential election, when Russian operatives sought to interfere with the election. They did so more with social engineering, spreading disinformation on platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. 

On Monday night, the delay caused widespread frustration among the campaigns. Dana Remus, general counsel for the Biden campaign, wrote in a letter to Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price and Executive Director Kevin Geiken that the reporting system had "considerable flaws." 

"The app that was intended to relay Caucus results to the Party failed; the Party's back-up telephonic reporting system likewise has failed," Remus wrote. "Now, we understand that the Caucus Chairs are attempting to -- and, in many cases, failing to -- report results telephonically to the Party. These acute failures are occurring statewide."

The app was reportedly built by a company called Shadow, according to a report by The Huffington Post. The report said Shadow is affiliated and funded by Acronym, a Democratic digital nonprofit. Acronym CEO Tara McGowan didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. (Disclosure: McGowan is a former journalist for CBS News, which is owned by CNET parent ViacomCBS.) 

In a statement, Acronym distanced itself from Shadow, saying Acronym is "an investor in several for-profit companies across the progressive media and technology sectors. One of those independent, for-profit companies is Shadow, Inc, which also has other private investors."

This story was originally published on CNET, ZDNet's sister site.

Editorial standards