The 2020 Iowa Caucuses was held on Feb. 3 and for the first time ever, a mobile app was used for the voting process. Privately run by political parties themselves rather than state/local governments, the caucuses are most often associated with the decision of a presidential nominee.
While intentions were good, the app created several major issues, leading to a conversation on the way caucuses should be run — or if they should exist in the first place.
The app was created by a company called Shadow Inc. The young startup had a history in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, as well as developing several apps for current Democratic Presidential candidates.
The app boasted that it would give precinct leaders the ability to report results, as well as keep poll data updated for voters. On the day of the caucuses, only certain districts’ apps were functioning, and many encountered multiple issues.
Many voters had waited until the day of the caucus to download the app, leading to error messages and problems with instructions. Most were unaware that they should bring their phones in the first place.
These issues led to a larger discussion of what the caucuses offer us as a nation, and if they should exist in the first place.
As Chabot College political science professor Jamilya Ukudeeva explains, caucuses are a very divisive concept for Americans. “On one side, we have people who love caucuses because of how engaging they are and how involved people get.”
While they can be perceived as a democratic necessity, they can also be extremely complex and time-consuming. “There has been a movement for many years in the Democratic National Committee (DNC)” says Professor Ukudeeva. “They’ve been trying to push states to give up caucuses and move to the primary elections, the way we do in California.”
The DNC will be using Iowa as another argument for the elimination. Now, there’s talk of eliminating the caucuses altogether.
Professor Ukudeeva also touched on the ramifications of Iowa, stating that the main election has to be “transparent” and “reliable” — two words that don’t describe the recent caucus.
“We already have a problem with nonparticipation and low voter turnout. When voters see mishandling at this level, the trust goes lower and people are even less likely to vote.” Damage is done to the entire electoral system, not just the caucus.
The possibility of hacking and tampering in our elections, another issue arises in the use of digital mediums in politics. When asked about the plausibility of foreign interference, Professor Ukudeeva admitted that “Russia’s interference is very likely, and that’s actually my number one fear. You can call me paranoid, but I’m watching out for that.”
Furthermore, with the recent situation and death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, another threat is just as possible.
It’s clear that change has already occurred; with digital election processes and Americans’ reliance on the internet, our democracy is changing. The Iowa caucus showed us that progress is possible — but returning to older methods may not be such a bad choice for the nation.