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Questions Remain About Caucus Results App

Caucusgoers check in at Muscatine Precinct 6.

With caucusing beginning, questions continue to swirl about the system in place for individual precincts to report their results to the state party.

Iowa Public Radio and NPR were the first to report last month that the state party would be using a new smartphone app to transmit results.

While security questions about the app remain, the biggest question tonight is usability.

John Deeth, the caucus organizer in Johnson County, which has 57 precincts, says he has heard from "about 20" precinct leaders who have had some sort of issue with accessing the app.

“Download issues, password issues,” Deeth said. “It might be user error; it might just be confusing.”

Amber Mohr, a precinct chair in Shelby County, says she got a number of different error messages when she tried to download the app, so she has decided to just submit her precinct’s results by phone.

Bloomberg and CNN reported similar complaints from county chairs on Monday as well.

The Iowa Democratic Party says the issues they’ve heard about from across the state have been in line with what they were expecting, and that’s why they offer multiple channels to report results.

“The IDP is working with any precinct chairs who want to use the optional tabulation application to make sure they are comfortable with it,” said Mandy McClure, the communications director for the state party. “We’ve always been aware that many precinct chairs prefer to call in results via a secure hotline, and have systems in place so they can do so.”

Deeth, of Johnson County, said he was advising precinct chairs in his county to just use the phone if they have any trouble with the app whatsoever.

“Just get the results to Des Moines however best you can,” Deeth said.

The party has been tight-lipped about the app, declining to name the developer or detail which security experts have performed audits on the software.

While the IDP says this is to increase security, cybersecurity experts say that strategy just makes oversight and trust more difficult.

Party officials said in January that there would be a public unveiling of the app for media members before the caucuses, but that never happened.

“It’s remarkable how much opacity there is on this topic,” said Joe Kiniry, chief scientist of the election technology company Free & Fair.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter