February 4, 2020 / 5:19 PM / 2 months ago

Explainer: Election meltdown: What went wrong at the Iowa caucuses

(Reuters) - A technology meltdown triggered chaos in the hours after the Iowa caucuses were held on Monday night, upending a highly-anticipated first contest in the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination race.

Iowa officials had anticipated releasing results before bedtime. But by midday on Tuesday, not a single precinct result had been made public.

“This was the biggest technological meltdown of an election that was broadcast on live TV,” said Marian Schneider, the president of Verified Voting, a group that advocates for secure voting technology.

Here’s what unfolded:

WHAT BROKE?

Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) officials planned to use a mobile app to collect the results of more than 1,600 caucuses that took place across the state on Monday night.

In previous caucuses, the party used a phone system to have local volunteers call the results into state headquarters.

But this time, state officials instructed the local volunteers, known as precinct chairs, to download a mobile app. It was designed to collect the data and then provide results.

Before voting even began, complaints about the app surfaced in media. Users complained in interviews that it was difficult to log into the app.

IDP Chairman Troy Price said on Tuesday that the app also had a “coding problem” that caused more issues, but said there was no hack or intrusion involved.

BUSY PHONE LINES

By 10 p.m. CST, it became clear that Iowa Democrats were going to have to find another way to tabulate the results.

Local party officials began calling to submit their results, but jammed phone lines meant that even the old-fashioned way wasn’t working.

“We had people with their phones on speaker who were stuck on hold from 9 through at least 11,” said Linn County Democratic Party Chairman Bret Nilles.

TOO MANY NUMBERS

Further exacerbating the problem was the volume of information that Democratic officials had to collect this time.

Each individual caucus involves a two-step process. Voters pick a candidate. And then any voter who backs a candidate with less than 15% support makes a second choice. Then the results are converted into delegates.

In previous years, only the number of delegates had to be tabulated. This year, all three parts - the first vote, the second and the number of delegates - must be reported.

WILL WE EVER KNOW THE WINNER?

The silver lining, Democrats in Iowa say, is that all of the results have a paper trail.

All voters who attended a caucus filled out a card indicating their picks - both the first and second.

Flags are left on a seat before a rally by former Vice President Joe Biden in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

“The good news is that they didn’t use (the mobile app) for voting, which means the results are available and have been preserved on paper,” said voting security advocate Schneider.

Party officials expect to make the majority of the results known by Tuesday at 4 p.m. CST.

(GRAPHIC-Inisde the Iowas caucuses link: here)

Editing by Soyoung Kim and Paul Simao

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