Iowa caucus results: Glitchy new app blamed for chaos as Democrats fail to declare winner of votes

Error messages and technical glitches leave results in limbo

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 04 February 2020 10:00
Supporters of democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wait for results to come in at his caucus night watch party on February 03, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa
Supporters of democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wait for results to come in at his caucus night watch party on February 03, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa

A new mobile app has been blamed for chaos at the Iowa caucus, with technical problems leaving the Democrats unable to announce a winner of the votes.

The app was being used to report the choices that voters across the state had made. But it appeared to be hit by outages and issues, apparently delaying and perhaps undermining the process.

The Iowa caucuses are the first time voters have input into choosing the Democratic candidate for president, who will stand for election later this year. The process is already somewhat complicated, requiring a series of votes in different places across Iowa and beyond.

The app issues brought further confusion and meant that the party was unable to declare a winner hours after the results were expected.

An Iowa Democratic Party official pointed to "inconsistencies in the reporting" of the results and said "quality control" efforts were holding up the results as voters had their first input in the process to determine the party's presidential candidate.

The official stressed that delay was not caused by a "hack or an intrusion".

But other caucus organisers put the blame squarely on a new technology used to report results from some 1,700 caucus meetings across the state.

Glitches with a new mobile app caused confusion, they said, and some caucus organisers were forced to call in results for the state party to record manually, introducing human error and delays.

Des Moines County Democratic chair Tom Courtney said he heard that in precincts across his county, including his own, the mobile app was "a mess".

Precinct leaders were instead phoning in their results to the Democratic Party headquarters, and "they weren't answering the phones", Mr Courtney said.

The problems were an embarrassment for a state that has long sought to protect its prized status as the first contest in presidential primaries and the nation's first vetter of candidates.

The delay was certain to become fodder for critics who argued that the caucuses, party meetings that can be chaotic, crowded and messy, are antiquated and exclusionary.

The Iowa Democratic Party pressed forward with the new reporting system amid warnings about the possibility of hacking and glitches.

Party officials said they took numerous security precautions and maintained that any errors would be easily correctable because of backups and a paper trail.

But the apps were barely working Monday night, according to a person involved in processing the data who requested anonymity to discuss the party's internal system.

That forced party aides to record results from the precincts via phone and enter them manually into a database. Officials were left using photos of results to validate results and ensure accuracy.

Jonathan Green, who chaired a precinct in Lone Tree, said that when he tried to put the results into the reporting app, he kept getting a confusing error message: "Unknown protocol. The address specifies a protocol (e.g., "wxyz:??".) the browser does not recognise, so the browser cannot properly connect to the site".

He said he ultimately gave up and tried to call in the results to the party.

Like others, he was put on hold for an extended period of time.

In the end, it took hours to report results from his small site, he said.

The slowdown was exacerbated by the fact that the party was for the first time attempting to report three different sets of data, an initial headcount of each candidates' support, a count after supporters had realigned, and the state delegate winners.

"We found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results," the party said in a statement.

"This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion.

"The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results."

President Donald Trump's campaign quickly seized on the issue to sow doubt about the validity of the results.

"Quality control = rigged?" Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted Monday evening, adding a emoji with furrowed brows.

Additional reporting by agencies

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