Written by: Harshini Venkatachalam
Edited by: Ishaani Khatri
The plan was simple: build an app to tabulate the votes and advance the Democratic party’s goal of developing efficient organizing technology in the process. However, in the Iowa Democratic Primary on February 3, 2020, failures in the app structure and disorganization in the backup plan resulted in days of delay in reporting the votes. Following the fiasco, Nevada party leaders decided not to use the app and count paper votes instead .
The problems with the app trace back to the decision to contract Shadow, Inc., a little-known tech firm, to develop the app. Employees of Shadow who worked on the app reported having only a few months to get the app ready for use . Though a mobile app equal in complexity to Instagram or Tinder can be built in 3-5 months, Shadow Inc. didn’t have the time to perform adequate testing or train users appropriately . Without testing, appropriate security features, and time, the app couldn’t be approved for release in the Apple App Store. Instead, the app was released on TestFairy, a platform without strict security and testing regulations .
As a result, the app was difficult to install and use, especially for older caucus chairs. One estimate states that only around one-quarter of the 1,700 chairs had the app properly installed and knew how to use it by Election Day . The failure in the app rollout may be a large setback in the development and use of further election technology, especially tabulation technology.
With respect to voting technology, the United States is lagging behind many other countries. For example, in India, an electronic voting system was first piloted in 1982 and adopted nationally in 2004. India has distributed over one million suitcase-sized voting machines each election, to serve a staggering 800 million voters. Since then, the system has been updated to increase accessibility, including accommodations for voters who are illiterate. India has shared its technology with neighboring countries, including Bhutan, where the first electronic elections were held in 2013. Other countries with more experience in national electronic voting systems include Brazil (with twenty years of experience), the United Arab Emirates, Peru, Mexico, Namibia, Estonia (with Internet voting), and more .
The abysmal performance of the voting app at this year's Democratic Primary in Iowa, when contrasted with other countries' centralized electronic systems, highlight the need for the United States to develop a consistent election technology strategy. The United States could invest in secure national electronic voting systems, or stick to the tried and true paper trail. Either way, voting methods should be more consistent and centralized, so that election integrity is maintained. No voter in a democracy should be in doubt about how their vote - and voice - will be counted.
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