Tech Problem With Mobile App Causes Iowa Caucus Chaos; Results Expected Tuesday

WCBS 880 Newsroom
February 03, 2020 - 11:45 pm
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Story updated at 12:35 p.m. on Feb, 4, 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa (WCBS 880) — Election night suspense gave way to anger and frustration as the first-in-the nation voting in the 2020 White House race stumbled Monday night.

Problems with a mobile app forced a delay in reporting the results of the Iowa caucuses Monday, as the campaigns, voters and the media pressed party officials for an explanation and got few answers.

“There was an app that the various precincts were supposed to use to report results, the Biden campaign says, ‘The app that was intended to relay caucus results to the party failed, the party's backup telephonic reporting system likewise has failed,’” CBS News correspondent Ed O'Keefe said.

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The director of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, Christopher Krebs, said Iowa's mobile app had not been vetted by his agency before caucus night.

In a statement early Tuesday, the Iowa Democratic Party blamed a “coding issue in the reporting system” that it said has since been fixed. 

Caucus results are expected to be released late Tuesday, according to the Iowa Democratic Party.

A representative for the party originally said “quality control” was a source of the delays — but noted that about a quarter of the state's nearly 1,700 precincts have reported their data already. The party also said the delay was not caused by a “hack or an intrusion.”

The issues came as Iowa voters packed caucus sites across the state as Democrats balanced a strong preference for fundamental change with an overwhelming desire to defeat President Donald Trump in the opening contest of the 2020 presidential primary season.

The apps were barely working, forcing party aides to record results from the precincts via phone and enter them manually into a database, according to a person involved in processing the data who requested anonymity to discuss the party's internal process.

The slowdown came as the party attempted to report more data about the caucus than in years past — promising to release both a headcount of each candidates' supporters and the delegate winners from each site.

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“The integrity of the results is paramount,” Iowa Democratic Party spokeswoman Mandy McClure said in a statement. “We have experienced a delay in the results due to quality checks and the fact that the IDP is reporting out three data sets for the first time. What we know right now is that around 25% of precincts have reported, and early data indicates turnout is on pace for 2016.”

The problems were an embarrassment for a state party that has long sought to protect its prized status as the first contest in the primary race. The delay was certain to become fodder for caucus critics who call the process antiquated and exclusionary.

Despite the problems, many contenders were quick to claim momentum and 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.

Linn County Auditor Joel Miller, who ran a precinct in the Cedar Rapids suburb of Robins, said some app users may not have gotten the instructions on how to log into the system.

“If people didn’t know where to look for the PIN numbers or the precinct numbers, that could slow them down,” said Miller, who said he had no problem using the system to report his precinct’s figures and it worked fine.

Helen Grunewald, a precinct caucus chairwoman in Benton County, said she had been on hold with the party trying to report her results for a significant amount of time.

Earlier in the night, however, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said while there were some reports from precinct officials that they couldn’t log into the mobile app, a team of trouble-shooters was working to address any technical issues.

“We’ve had an app before but we’ve also had a hotline before, and folks have had the option to do that, and so we expect that we’ll be able to report the results in a timely manner this evening,” he said.

(© 2020 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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