IOWA CAUCUS 2020

Site leaders say Iowa caucuses went fine. Getting results to the state party didn't

Many abandoned glitchy app and turned to the phone - but got put on hold

Sara Sedlacek of West Liberty listens to speakers Monday night at a caucus site at the community center in West Liberty.
Sara Sedlacek of West Liberty listens to speakers Monday night at a caucus site at the community center in West Liberty. Sedlacek began the night uncommitted and considering Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden. She ended up joining her husband supporting Warren. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Many caucus site leaders had problems using a new smartphone app to report results from the field of Monday night’s Democratic caucuses.

Then a backup — phone lines to the state party headquarters — became overwhelmed.

Those appear to be the primary issues, according to interviews with precinct leaders across the state, that caused the reporting of results from Iowa Democrats’ first-in-the-nation caucuses to fail so spectacularly.

Leaders from some of the state’s roughly 1,700 precincts said Tuesday they had trouble downloading the app in the first place. Others had issues entering the data.

When those precinct leaders tried instead to call the results in to the state party, the phone lines were so busy they spent hours on hold.

The state party said a coding error caused a reporting error in the new app that was developed just for this year’s caucuses, and that backup systems were taking longer than expected.

The party finally released the first batch of results at 4 p.m. Tuesday, roughly 19 hours after most caucuses ended. And even that was incomplete, only 62 percent of all precincts.

For some precinct leaders, the problems began right from the start.

Linda Langston, chair of Cedar Rapids Precinct 25 at the Veterans Memorial Building, wasn’t even able to download the app, perhaps because too many people were trying at access it at the same time, she said.

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“If they had sent an email out a week ago telling you to download it more than four days before the caucuses,” it might have worked better, she said. “People thought it would be instantly there.”

Precinct 25 leaders waited on hold for about three hours to report their results by phone about midnight, she said.

Marty O’Boyle, the mayor of Eldridge and a veteran caucusgoer, reported the results from two precincts. O’Boyle said he didn’t even bother to use the app; he chose to phone in results.

“The app didn’t fail me. I didn’t use it,” he joked.

But he was waiting on the phone for over an hour when the line went dead, he said. Rather than call again, he sat around and watched the returns on the news.

He finally received a call in the middle of the night from a party official asking for results. O’Boyle said he reported the numbers and also sent in photos of written tabulations.

Other officials described multiple problems using the app.

Multiple PINs may have caused some confusion, said Elesha Gayman, chair of the Scott County Democrats.

Gayman said two personal identification numbers were sent to organizers using the app — one for secure access to the app, the other for the precinct location.

Gayman said state party officials from Des Moines were picking up sign-in sheets and several thousand preference cards from Scott County.

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“It definitely wasn’t that it wasn’t secure,” Gayman said about the app. “If anything, we had too much security.”

Dana Dominguez, precinct chair at the West Liberty Community Center, had downloaded the app and entered numbers through the first alignment. But when precinct leaders realized the count was off and tried to change it on the app, the program would not allow an adjustment, Dominguez said.

“After the first alignment, we scrapped the app,” she said. “We started filling out the math work sheet. I wanted full confidence of the results we were going to be accurate.”

Dominguez and another precinct leader drove the results from West Liberty to Muscatine before 10 a.m. Tuesday. There, Democratic Party leaders planned to verify all the county numbers and then get them to the state, Dominguez said.

“It’s not corruption. It’s not the (Democratic National Committee) doing something shady,” she said. “We want it to be right and fair and it takes a lot longer to double or triple check.”

Anne-Marie Taylor, chair of Iowa City Precinct 27 at City High School, started with the app, entering the total of 875 for attendance and seeing the app computed how many supporters were needed for a candidate to reach viability.

But then organizers put down the phone to execute the first alignment. “When we picked it up five minutes later, all our information was gone,” Taylor said. “We didn’t even want to trust it because we didn’t want to get anything wrong.”

Taylor reported the results by phone around midnight after being on hold for about an hour.

One of few precinct chairs who reported smooth use of the app was state Sen. Zach Wahls, who chaired Coralville’s Precinct 1 at the Coralville Performing Arts Center.

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“I had downloaded it, tested it, practiced logging in and out, and set up the (two-factor authentication) without any trouble,” Wahls said.

Although many precinct captains tried to follow instructions to enter data throughout the caucus process, Wahls waited until the end of the caucus and entered it all at once.

Jeremy Saint, captain at Precinct 3 at West High School in Sioux City, also said he had no problems using the app.

“The app worked fine for me. We were able to get our results in very shortly after we finished up,” said Saint.

Erin Jordan of The Gazette and Bret Hayworth, Graham Ambrose and Jared McNett of Lee Enterprises contributed.

LATEST RESULTS: Delegate counts, and first and final alignments

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