Paper Matters Blog
A Vote for Paper
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On February 3rd, Iowa held a caucus for the 2020 electoral cycle. Unlike many other states that use polling stations, Iowans gather by precinct in what is the first major event in the primaries to discuss and vote on the presidential candidates. In past elections, the Iowa caucuses have been sounding boards for how a candidate will fare in later elections across the country.

Subsequently, millions of citizens around the nation have a vested interest in the results and while discussion times vary, once the voting is in and the count begins, voters rarely have to wait more than an hour or two for the outcome. That was not the case this year. Previously, those participating in the caucus cast their votes using certified voting papers, but this year, for the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party used an app to tally and report the caucus results, causing widespread delays and fostering countless questions as the app failed and votes were held up.

While the Iowa caucuses began at 7 pm, as usual, The New York Times reports that as of 10:30 last night, a conference call was held to announce that roughly 65% of the precincts were unable to deliver their results. Mandy Mclure, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party, believes that while the app was unable to deliver the voters’ decision, it did successfully receive and record the votes. “The underlying data and paper trail is sound [the app] will simply take time to further report the results,” Mclure insists. While Mclure cautions patience, voters are growing frustrated with the process and confusion mounts around why the process shifted away from the paper tallies of the past.

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Several Twitter users responded to the delay announcements, adding their voice to the growing crowd. Some noted that the Party had years since the last election to perfect the system while others echoed the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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Business Insider explained that the app was intended to make the caucuses simpler and more efficient by sharing data quickly and minimizing the need for a conference, which was another idea that was bandied about. They report that 75%, not 65%, of the precincts were unable to deliver their votes and that as of 12:15 am on February 4th, Iowa was no closer to an official result than it was before the vote.

Matt Blaze, a professor of computer science and law at Georgetown, quipped that “A system where the vote is taken literally by having people stand around in groups is apparently being disrupted by a software failure.” He was also quoted by The New York Times as saying that “The consensus of all experts who have been thinking about this is unequivocal. Internet and mobile voting should not be used at this time in civil elections.” One thing seems clear, a system designed to abandon paper with the goal of simplification and swiftness has created more delay and frustration than its predecessor.

One twitter user did their best to put it succinctly, and perhaps they are right.

iowa caucus

Click the blue link to learn more about ballot stock and certified voting papers.

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