Will Iowa's Voting Disaster Impact Other Caucuses? Nevada Had Planned to Use Similar App Technology

Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses melted down on Monday, in part due to issues with a new voting application system— a problem that could plague other 2020 primary contests using similar technology.

The voting app problems kept Iowa Democratic Party officials from swiftly releasing results from the highly-anticipated kickoff to the 2020 presidential primary. As of Tuesday afternoon, there was still no declared winner in the battleground state.

Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price said in a statement that the plan was to release the results "as soon as possible," but that the ultimate goal is to ensure "integrity and accuracy of the process."

The delay stemmed from a "coding issue" in the new application system, according to party officials. The error caused organizers to resort to manual, paper trail backups instead of the data collected through the software. Several precincts expressed doubt about the app's results, according to NBC News.

Nevada's Democratic Party had planned to use a similar program downloaded to organizer's personal smartphones to streamline the reporting of results in the state's caucuses, which are being held on February 22.

But after Iowa's problems, the Nevada Democratic Party announced Tuesday it will not be using the controversial voting app in their early-voting contest and are currently evaluating "the best path forward."

"[Nevada] Dems can confidently say that what happened in the Iowa caucus last night will not happen in Nevada on February 22nd. We will not be employing the same app or vendor used in the Iowa caucus," Nevada State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II said in a statement on Twitter.

The Silver State announced its decision to use a new mobile app last year. Shelby Wiltz, the director of the Nevada State Democratic Party Caucus, told the Reno Gazette Journal that the digital move was part of an effort to make the contest "the most accessible, expansive and transparent caucus yet."

Wiltz also asserted that the application was thoroughly evaluated through "several rounds of testing," and that party officials were working with security experts to "ensure the integrity of our process."

iowa caucus voting app problems
People walk past a sign displayed on a building a Drake University that reads "Road To 2020 Starts Here" on February 2, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Voting app problems have delayed the release of the Iowa caucus results. Joshua Lott/Getty

Iowa's voting app problems are likely to spark even more concerns about election security heading deeper into the 2020 race. Cybersecurity was already bound to be a focus this year after Russia and other actors attempted to interfere in the 2016 election.

In fact, security fears had already prompted Iowa and Nevada Democrats to scrap their original plan for a telephone-based "virtual caucus." The goal of the telephone-based contest was to allow more people to vote.

Additionally, former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign already raised concerns about the "integrity" of the Iowa caucuses following the issues on Monday night. In a letter to the Iowa Democratic Party, Biden's team said all of the 2020 campaigns "deserve full explanations and relevant information regarding the methods of quality control" the state was using.

Iowa Democratic Party officials have asserted there is "every indication that our systems were secure," and that the voting app was not hacked. But security experts have said that the app is still a potential target for interference, especially since it is downloaded to the personal phones of caucus managers.

"My first reaction to the early reports of the app failure was one of denial. I couldn't believe that with so much attention being paid to the Iowa caucuses, the app would fail so spectacularly," Maurice Turner, an election security expert at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told Newsweek.

When asked what Nevada officials can do to mitigate any potential voting app problems, Turner said he would encourage them to have another round of testing with outside researchers. But he said he wouldn't be surprised if Nevada "pulled the plug" on the application software after Iowa's meltdown.

"The app is supposed to make it more secure, have fewer errors and make communication happen faster. None of that occurred last night," Turner added.

Update (1:30 p.m. ET) : This story has been updated to include a statement from the Nevada State Democratic Party about the decision to scrap the voting application from its upcoming caucus. The headline has also been changed to reflect the party's statement.