The Iowa Caucus App Was a Disaster

Iowa Democratic Party Caucus App Failure

The results are in from Iowa and, in a surprise upset, all of the major candidates were blindsided by a political novice and unwelcome newcomer: a poorly-written mobile application.

Call it a coding error, call it technical difficulties, call it quality control, or another euphemism of your choosing. The reality is that this software was not ready for prime time, and it detonated in spectacular fashion in Iowa last night. Eventually, there will be a technical post-mortem that will explain why the app’s developers made the decisions they did, and what technical underpinnings went sideways. But I want to discuss the real takeaway: Poorly-written software harms users.

Chaos at the Caucus

When the stakes are low, a malfunctioning app can be annoying. Being the salty New Englander I am, I accept that Google Maps can’t cope with the labyrinthine nightmare that passes for Boston’s streets. And while it’s annoying, if I get turned around in the Back Bay or Chinatown a few times trying to find a restaurant or parking garage, no one is going to die.

But as the stakes grow, so too do the consequences. In the case of Iowa, the app didn’t just annoy people. It endangered our core democratic (with a small ‘d’) process. It jeopardized the very way our country selects who occupies the most powerful office in the land. The Iowa caucuses, while complicated compared to traditional primaries (like we’ll be holding in New Hampshire next week), still function under stress. This app did not.

I’m not trying to argue software development is easy. I’ll be the first to tell you it is not. It takes time, talent, raw knowledge, and an eye for detail. It takes technical proficiency and innovation. But reading about the app that made its way into the hands of users that were trying to use it in good faith, it’s clear one or more of these attributes were not present during the software’s development.

Bad software harms people.

While the Iowa debacle has sucked all the oxygen out of the national conversation, it’s worth mentioning that Google Photos also made headlines this week for sending users’ private videos to complete strangers. Only Google knows how many people were affected by that “privacy bug.” Hopefully, I wasn’t among the affected, but it’s a chilling thought.

Look, this isn’t a sales pitch for this company. But I can safely say ZCO’s been developing software for thirty years and we’ve never endangered the democratic fabric of our nation. We have standards.

Think I’m right? Disagree with me? Join the discussion on social media and let me know.