In a recent article, Nate Silver’s polling aggregation blog FiveThirtyEight states that tech that was designed to improve the efficiency of caucuses have actually make the process significantly worse, potentially “dooming” caucuses following the Iowa fiasco.
In an article titled “Tech Was Supposed To Improve Caucuses. Instead, It May Have Doomed Them,” FiveThirtyEight outlines how tech that was meant to streamline the caucus process has in fact led to multiple issues for both the Iowa and Nevada caucuses.
FiveThirtyEight’s Kayleigh Rogers writes that technology wasn’t meant to improve transparency, increase participation and streamline the reporting of results, but that’s not what happened:
But there’s one thing Democrats probably weren’t expecting tech would do: highlight so much of what was already wrong with caucuses. Even if the new technology worked flawlessly, the need for these digital tools only underscored the many problems with caucuses, nearly none of which could be solved with an app. Now, there’s an open question about whether caucuses will be part of 2024’s nominating process.
The Democrats’ tech utopianism started with plans in Iowa and Nevada to hold “virtual caucuses,” allowing Democrats who couldn’t attend a caucus in person to cast a ballot remotely by phone. There’s a reason you didn’t hear much about them over the past month — they were kiboshed by the DNC due to security concerns.
But even traditional caucuses were being modernized, which is why you heard all about infamous apps, jammed phone lines and Google forms in the past few weeks. They were high-tech workarounds for some of caucuses’ flaws: they’re not inclusive, they’re not transparent and the complicated math and arcane rules can confuse even the most seasoned of volunteers, opening the door for errors.
Rogers notes that one issue that arose was how to incorporate an absentee ballot. Rogers states that in a primary, early ballots can be counted alongside day-of votes but caucusing requires that some of these early ballots be realigned.
Rogers explains that in a caucus, voters form groups to support their first-choice candidate but if that candidate doesn’t attract a specific percentage of votes, usually 15 percent, the candidate is considered nonviable and supporters must realign themselves to form a viable group. This process is confusing and difficult in person, doing it with people who voted early proves even harder.
Rogers notes that in the past, caucuses just didn’t even attempt to include early votes. The DNC attempted to solve this issue by introducing absentee ballot requirements which forced state caucuses to turn to tech solutions. The first idea was “virtual” caucuses which resulted in a number of security risks. Another idea was to host remote satellite caucuses which failed to solve the accessibility issues of caucusing.
In an effort to improve transparency, the DNC introduced new rules that required states to report three sets of numbers: the total votes in the first alignment, the total votes in the final alignment and the delegate equivalents. The Iowa Democratic Party attempted to commission the development of an app that had widespread failures on the day of the caucuses and led to an extended delay in reporting results.
ProPublica reported in February that the Iowa Caucuses app used to count and report votes from individual precincts could have been vulnerable to hacking. According to officials at Massachusetts-based Veracode, a security firm that reviewed the software at ProPublica’s request, the IowaReporter App was extremely insecure and could have had sensitive information such as vote totals and passwords intercepted or changed.
Veracode’s chief technology officer Chris Wysopal stated that it was a “poor decision” to release the app without fixing many of the issues that it contained. “It is important for all mobile apps that deal with sensitive data to have adequate security testing, and have any vulnerabilities fixed before being released for use,” he said.
The DNC’s new reporting requirements were also blamed for delays in the reporting of Nevada’s results as it took longer for all those numbers to be reported and verified. Rogers writes that this year’s caucus issues could result in the caucuses being abolished completely, writing: “Democrats turned to tech in an effort to save caucuses. In the end, it might be what finally kills them.”
Read the full article here.