Dems’ Iowa Caucus Voting App Stirs Security Concerns – The Wall Street Journal


Democrats will record the votes from the Iowa presidential caucuses in just over a week using a smartphone app, a procedure that has stirred questions about security.

Party leaders said that the mobile app would make it easier and faster to report results from some 1,700 caucus sites. But critics expressed concern about the reliability of the app amid warnings that cyber adversaries could seek to disrupt the 2020 elections.

Douglas Jones,

an associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa, who has studied election security, called the idea a “security nightmare,” and said that cellphones were difficult to protect against the range of possible threats.

The caucus workers will use the app on their personal smartphones, which Mr. Jones said could be vulnerable, depending on how well the workers take care of their devices.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman

Troy Price

defended the plan. “We are confident in the security systems we have in place,” he said.

If there were any errors due to the app, the party would be able to correct them because the caucus workers also would keep paper records of the votes, a state party official said. In addition, caucus chairs would have the option of calling in the results through a secure hotline.

The Iowa Democratic Party has declined to disclose some details about the app, such as the vendor that made it, saying that doing so could inadvertently help potential cyber attackers.

Some security experts took issue with that approach. “The argument the party is using is effective at preventing public oversight, but it’s not effective at protecting against” cyber threats, said Mr. Jones, the election-security expert.

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In Iowa, multiple caucus organizers said in interviews that they liked the app because it was convenient.

Catherine Crist,

who expects that she will have to count roughly 400 voters at her caucus site next week as a precinct chair in Iowa’s Linn County, said the app would be a big help.

Ms. Crist, a longtime Democratic organizer, said that she was confident about the system and that fears about hacking were overblown. “People are making much ado about nothing,” she said.

Glenn Hurst,

a Democratic caucus organizer in Minden, Iowa—whose population is around 600—said he expected the app would make it easier to transmit the results from his rural site.

But he doesn’t think he needs it. “I’m pretty confident in my ability to do the math,” said Mr. Hurst, a family-medicine doctor.

It isn’t the first time for a caucus app. Both Democrats and Republicans in Iowa used an app from

Microsoft Corp.

in 2016. The company said it helped the parties report 95% of their precinct results in about four hours.

A spokesman for Microsoft said that the company had a good experience with the Iowa caucuses but was focusing this election cycle on helping secure campaigns and other election security efforts.

This isn’t the only tech-related controversy for the Democratic Iowa caucuses this election cycle. The state party initially sought to allow some phone voting through so-called virtual caucuses, but the DNC blocked the plan over security concerns.

The state party has worked on security measures with the Democratic National Committee, the Department of Homeland Security, and experts from Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said the DNC.

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DHS senior adviser on election security

Matt Masterson

said that the department has collaborated with both the Democratic and Republican parties to protect the 2020 elections.

Write to Alexa Corse at alexa.corse@wsj.com

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