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Perspective: Lessons Learned From The Iowa Caucus

Alfred Derks

If there is one thing that the Democratic candidates for President can agree on, it is that the 2020 Iowa caucus was an unmitigated disaster.  


Problems began when the mobile app that had been designated for reporting results failed to operate. But blaming the tech might be missing the point. Clearly the app -- which was developed by the now aptly named Shadow, Inc. -- did not perform as anticipated. But the cause of the problem was more widespread and systemic.  



The app was rolled out with little or no testing prior to the day of the caucus. Its use was mandated for volunteers, who unfortunately received little or no training on the technology. And the backup system -- hastily thrown together when problems with the application began to become apparent -- had its own unique set of challenges, with volunteers calling in results to jammed phone lines, emailing photographs of hand copied worksheets to an address that was not being monitored, or hand delivering paper tally sheets to reporting centers. So targeting the app just scapegoats the technology and fails to recognize the larger challenges involved in administering this kind of operation.  


The question at the end of the 2020 Iowa caucus was not “who won? but “who lost?” And who lost was all of us. Voting is the principal means of citizen participation in democracy. If the systems, mechanisms, and institutions that facilitate the vote are not trusted and trustworthy, it is our democracy that suffers. We can and must do better. 


I’m David Gunkel and that’s my perspective. 

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