IOWA CAUCUS 2020

Phone app called 'Shadow' partly to blame for Iowa caucuses meltdown

Software firm has ties to members of Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign

Taylor Nelson (left), precinct captain for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Clara Gilbert, precinct captain for Sen. Bernie Sa
Taylor Nelson (left), precinct captain for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Clara Gilbert, precinct captain for Sen. Bernie Sanders, work with satellite precinct chair John Schneider to tabulate results Monday during the Democratic satellite caucus at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

One of the glitches that caused a delay Monday night in reporting results from the Democratic caucuses is a smartphone app developed by a company linked to operatives of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The issue Monday night was both user error, with precinct leaders failing to properly download the app or log in, as well as a technical glitch, according to Democratic officials across the state.

There were problems early in the night at some caucus locations using the app, largely because the caucus site leaders had trouble with the instructions for downloading the app and operating their phones.

But the main problem came separately when caucus sites started successfully reporting the data through the app, which was developed by a Democratic tech firm called Shadow.

The data was transferred from the app into another system also built by the vendor, which is based in Denver.

But when party officials eyeballed the numbers, they discovered that a second system for collating the data spit out only partial results. The vendor later discovered a coding error in this secondary system, which was later fixed.

Representatives for Shadow didn’t respond to a request for comment. But in a tweet, the company said:

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“We sincerely regret the delay in the reporting of the results of last night’s Iowa caucuses and the uncertainty it has caused to the candidates, their campaigns, and Democratic caucus-goers.”

The Iowa Democratic Party spent about $63,000 on services from Shadow in November and December 2019, records show.

Shadow, a for-profit software company, was founded as Groundbase in 2017. In 2019, it was acquired by Acronym, a nonprofit digital outfit with an affiliated political action committee.

Groundbase is a tech development company co-founded by Gerard Niemira and Krista Davis, who worked for the tech team on Clinton’s campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination, according to reports from the Los Angeles Times and others.

“We are campaign and technology veterans who have built and implemented technology at Hillary for America, Obama for America, Google, Kiva, Apple, the AFL-CIO, and the DNC.” Shadow says on its website.

In a statement Tuesday, a spokesman for Acronym, Kyle Tharp, said the organization invests in “several for-profit companies across the progressive media and technology sectors.”

“One of those independent, for-profit companies is Shadow, Inc., which also has other private investors,” he added.

Sources told the Washington Post that the same app was to be used again Feb. 22 in the Nevada caucuses. But the Nevada Democratic Party said in a statement Tuesday that it would not be.

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“NV Dems can confidently say that what happened in the Iowa caucus last night will not happen in Nevada on February 22nd,” said a statement Tuesday from that state’s party chairman. “We will not be employing the same app or vendor used in the Iowa caucus.”

This cycle is not the first time Iowa Democrats have used a mobile app to relay precinct-by-precinct results. In 2016, they used a mobile app built by Microsoft.

“It worked just fine,” said Andy McGuire, who was the state party’s chairwoman at the time.

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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