Views on the News: Delayed Iowa Caucus Results
On Feb. 3, United States presidential candidates competed for the 41 pledged delegates in 1,679 precincts during the Iowa Caucus. Iowa’s Democratic Party planned to release the results of the caucus through a smartphone app designed to calculate and release the results more quickly to the public than in previous years. However, the app had the opposite effect — results were delayed by almost a day and only started being released Tuesday afternoon. The IDP confirmed that the delay was due to transmitting errors between the app and the IDP. How do you think the delay in the release of the caucus results will affect what some see as already wavering public confidence in our voting systems? Considering the fragility of technology, should Democratic parties in states with upcoming caucuses and primaries take precautions to ensure the results are released without similar issues?
Iowa 2020 can be described by the good, the bad and the downright ugly. First the good: paper ballots. In response to Russian interference in 2016, the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) mandated paper ballots that can be traced and accurately verified. Whatever the final results are, we can sleep tight knowing that they are free from foreign intervention. The bad: DNC reaction. The biggest issue with Iowa is the growth in opinion that the DNC is conspiring against the Sanders campaign. Asking for a nondescript “recanvass” has Sanders supporters fearful that they will lose their virtual tie with Mayor Pete Buttigieg, playing right into Donald Trump’s wishes. The ugly: the IDC’s belief that this would actually work, and work faster than normal. 2020 was the first year that the Iowa Caucus counted votes in first and final alignments. This is a fantastic thing. However, they vested all of their faith in an app when they were counting three elections, not one. Decisions like minimally staffing the IDP call center and using an app are serious missteps, considering the increased demands of this election.
Nathanial Walker is a Ph.D. student studying international relations in the politics department.
Prof. Andreas Teuber (PHIL)
Whatever else we might say about the Iowa debacle, it does not bode well for electronic voting in the fall. There were glitches in the app and then in the hotline set up as backup for the precinct reps to report the results, but we now learn that an unexpected benefit has emerged from the delay in the reporting: we have data we mightn’t have had but for the Democratic Party's excessive security precautions. We not only have the delegate count which was all we got in 2016, we have the first and second alignment results, calculated and kept in part as security against failure the next level up in the system. Under Iowa Democratic Caucus Rules, if the group you join (first alignment) has under 15% of those in the room, you must move to a group in support of another candidate (your second alignment), from your first to your second choice. If the group you joined initially has over 15%, you must stay put. But if there was movement at a caucus site, we now know which candidates picked up votes and which did not. So I, for one, would hate to see Democrats abandon their gathering in one thousand six-hundred-and-eighty-one schools ‘n’ churches, homes ’n’ libraries, choosing instead to head to polls to cast ballots on Primary Day. Were the Democratic Party in Iowa to abandon caucusing for the privacy of the voting booth, something unique to our democracy will be lost.
Andreas Teuber is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Brandeis.
Vandita Malviya Wilson
Iowa and any other state that has a caucus should be mandated to remove this antiquated method of determining delegates, for either party. Technology today can and does work; however, when any large governmental organization is in charge, and has little knowledge of how the tech is supposed to work, and not enough dry runs are scheduled and the wrong players are the ones running the project, the whole thing becomes fraught with error. Frankly, and this is part of a larger issue on the delegate selection process, a small state with the homogeneity of Iowa should not even be a player on the early stage of the democratic process. I've read that the developer of the app had ties to the Democratic Party. I've read now that backups of backups were in place. As a former IT professional who very carefully documented her work, I can say this was clearly not the case. This should have been tested and rolled out in a much more efficient and discreet manner, not with the fanfare that it received. It erodes the trust of the general voting public. I do hope the other states are taking notice, and that they do a better job of rolling out their tech. In the end, the tech is only as good as the information received in creating the program and the interface. I would have recommended not touting it as much and maybe doing fewer interviews and more testing and debugging. But for $63,000, they got what they paid for, which isn't very much. Let's face it: the only states that matter are the swing states, and the big delegate states and much more than an app and voter count overhaul needs to happen for the voting system in this country to be modern and effective. I hope this "glitch" is an impetus in the right direction.
Vandita Malviya Wilson is an MBA candidate at the Brandeis International Business School and is a senior staff writer at the Justice.