Feb 6, 2020 - Technology

Finger pointing continues over Iowa app fiasco

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's been two days since app problems delayed returns and cast a stain on the Iowa caucus, but the blame game continues.

Why it matters: So far, two things seem pretty clear. It's not a good idea to rely on an app as the primary means of tabulating election results, and the app used in Iowa was also pretty bad.

Recap: The Iowa Democratic Party commissioned a mobile app to convey results of local caucuses to the state Democratic Party. Finding issues with the app, many precincts chose to phone in results instead, but the party didn't have enough staff to handle those reports, delaying the results.

The big picture: The problems in Iowa come at a particularly tough time. The U.S. is already struggling to bolster the stability and reliability of its elections, which are under stress from extreme partisanship, the spread of conspiracy theories on social media, and the still-fresh memories of Russian meddling in the 2016 contest.

Security is essential to election technology, but it's not the only thing. Voting systems, whether paper or digital, also need to be straightforward, transparent and auditable, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

  • Despite advances in technology, paper is seen as the gold standard because it offers all three.,
  • But, if you are going to use technology, you want to make sure it is thoroughly tested and proven reliable. The app used in Iowa, made by a startup called Shadow, was neither.
  • In fact, according to reports, it was buggy and error-prone, difficult to use and not even designed to be used in production, relying on a testing protocol for distribution.

While there is no evidence of any hacking having taken place, ProPublica reports the app was also highly susceptible to intrusion. The same report says the Homeland Security Department offered to help test the app, but the Iowa Democratic Party declined the offer.

What they're saying:

  • Zeynep Tufekci, on Twitter: "Who needs the Russians when elite arrogance, matched in magnitude by their incompetence, can screw things up this badly? If only it were the Russians! That'd be easier to fix. Worse, there was no need for that damn app."
  • Shadow CEO Gerard Niemira, in a statement on the firm's website: "We sincerely regret the delay in the reporting of the results of last night's Iowa caucuses and the uncertainty it has caused to the candidates, their campaigns, and Democratic caucus-goers. As the Iowa Democratic Party has confirmed, the underlying data and collection process via Shadow's mobile caucus app was sound and accurate, but our process to transmit that caucus results data generated via the app to the IDP was not."
  • Tara McGowan, co-founder of Democrat tech startup ACRONYM, to Axios: "We don't want things like this to discourage people taking risks because the aversion to the risks could be the reason we lose in November."

The bottom line: This was essentially a playbook for how not to employ technology in an election.

What's next: Nevada was reported to be planning to use the same app for its caucus, but it has decided not to in the wake of the Iowa fiasco.

Go deeper: Pete Buttigieg holds narrow lead in Iowa with 97% of precincts reporting

Go deeper

Coronavirus stay-at-home orders crater voter registration efforts

A volunteer looks for persons wanting to register to vote on July 4, 2019 in Santa Fe, N.M. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic is scuppering usual "get out the vote" efforts, leading to fears that large swaths of Americans could miss out on this year's elections.

What’s happening: Advocacy groups typically target college campuses, churches, festivals, fairs and other gatherings to seek out people who have yet to register, but many of those places are now closed. Voter registration efforts have largely moved to the internet, but advocates question whether that will be as effective as the person-to-person pitch.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 5,471,768 — Total deaths: 344,911 — Total recoveries — 2,223,523Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,660,072 — Total deaths: 98,184 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 31 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Italy reports lowest number of new coronavirus cases since February

Italy’s aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori fly over Milan in Duomo Square on May 25. Photo: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

The Italian government reported 300 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the lowest daily increase since Feb. 29.

Why it matters: Italy, the first country in Europe to implement a nationwide lockdown after emerging as a hotspot in March, appears to have finally weathered its coronavirus outbreak. Italy has reported nearly 33,000 total deaths, the third-highest total behind the U.S. and U.K.