Though a mobile app was used in the 2016 caucuses, the state party chose a new vendor and app for 2020 to submit results electronically. For months, the party has been holding in-person training sessions around the state to help precinct chairs get comfortable with the app.
But the Iowa Democratic Party, knowing that some of its precinct chairs have been running caucus locations for years based on a pen-and-paper system, kept open other lines for reporting, including the same phone-based hotline that has been used for years. The party also introduced a new preference card system for the caucuses that would create a rough paper trail.
The new app was designed to improve the speed and efficiency of reporting election results, and was tested by law enforcement and security officials. But details of the app, including the type of security it uses, its basic structure and even its name, were a closely held secret by Democratic officials, leading to rumors and confusion over how, exactly, the app functioned.
“The idea of keeping an app — particularly one that is going to be used by thousands of people at a public event — secret is really a fool’s errand,” Mr. Blaze said.
Serious attackers, Mr. Blaze said, would have no trouble finding or identifying an app that had been deployed to so large a group. Secrecy, he added, only prevented cybersecurity experts and outside parties who could help Democratic officials by scrutinizing the app and offering guidance on how to secure it.
Doubts over the app on social media began to surface last week, when news reports revealed that the app had been shared with precincts across Iowa. With little other information to go on, some candidates’ supporters began circulating rumors on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms falsely claiming that the app was a ruse to allow the Democratic Party to secretly boost its candidate of choice.
Tweets claiming that results from certain districts, or for certain candidates, would be erased from the app were quickly shared, despite being debunked.