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Technology sunk the Iowa caucus. Can it happen in Arizona?

Posted at 6:30 PM, Feb 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-05 00:14:14-05

On Monday evening, Iowa Democrats gathered from across the state and in satellite locations across the country, including one here in Maricopa county, to participate in the Iowa caucus.

The contest, which is the traditional start of the primary presidential cycle, typically ends with the leading candidates making a speech about gathering momentum that will carry forward to the next contest held a week later in New Hampshire. By the end of the night there was no clear winner. In fact, there were no results.

The reason? The Iowa Democratic Party deployed an application to all their caucus sites to collect and transmit results back to a centralized location.

When it came time to use the app, however, it became clear to party officials that the results were wrong. Later that evening, party officials publicly admitted that the application was having a “coding error,” and that the paper trail from the caucus locations would instead be used to aggregate and report results.

Technology, in this case a smartphone app developed by a company run by former Hillary Clinton campaign staffers, was supposed to rule the day. Instead it ruined it. What followed was a swelling of confusion and suspicion on social media.

Arizonans are familiar with technology failures in elections. The now infamous 2016 Presidential Preference election where voters stood for hours in long lines was partly due to the outdated technology.

Poorly implemented software caused the Arizona Secretary of State to fail to send publicity pamphlets to more than 400,000 voters during the Proposition 123 and 124 special election of the same year.

This begs the question, is the state of Arizona’s election technology a cause for concern? Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs doesn’t think so, and told ABC15 that what happened in Iowa, won’t happen here.

“[Iowa] is a party election run by party volunteers, and our elections here are administered by trained election professionals.” She told us.

While the state does have smartphone compatible web portals for voters to update their voter registration, it does not use any mobile apps in the administration of elections.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes echoed Hobbs’s sentiments about the technology in use at the county elections department. His office spent $6.1 million last year on the procurement of new vote tabulation equipment that he says will significantly speed up results reporting as well as bolster transparency. His office told ABC15 that all the equipment has gone through internal stress testing as well as field testing in last November’s Madison School district election.

The Iowa Caucus was a lesson learned for the Iowa Democratic Party. Based off of what state and county officials are stating, it will hopefully not be repeated in Arizona.