Is an app the answer to everything?
Count, send an email. Get auto response.
If you want to get flashy.
Create email template. Send email. Pull results from template.
It’s all so painfully familiar: with a crunch date of February 3, the Democratic Party in Iowa decided to charge ahead with an IT rollout that comprised an entirely new software system spread out across thousands of sites to record the result of the Democratic caucus for its presidential nominee. It was, inevitably, a complete …
Is an app the answer to everything?
App+Cloud= a buzzword bingo win for pitching to people who can sign checks but have no clue.
Count, send an email. Get auto response.
You forget that we're talking about the DNC here, who for the last century* have been pointing out the Red Menace and evil foreign influencers stealing the elections from them by abusing the Democratic process. With some possible self-abuse, like Clinton v Sanders, or a certain Pakistani gent who helped a few senior Dems with their IT.
So email would be fairly easy to abuse. I send a few well crafted emails saying Jellied Eel polled 97% of the vote, and next stop.. finding out what's in that mysterious football.
Then again, sounds like this would have been equally easy to abuse, or just screw up in various ways. Like not hijacking app downloads from Apple & Android stores, supporting that 1 person who still has a Windows mobile. Or why multiple officials needed the app at a given polling station, and being sure the duly appointed official provided the right result rather than an enterprising staffer who 'borrowed' a phone, found the post-it with the PIN and entered their own results.
And I'm guessing that if anyone is able to look closely, they'll probably find a distinct lack of audit capability to prove or disprove any shenanigans. At least nobody hanged Chad this time.
*Ok, less than a century. Just feels that way sometimes.
Email would have been worse.
There are 2000 voting sites, all using their own random devices.
How many have email setup? Do they have exchange server cos this is a work phone, gmail or still go to yahoo for webmail. Do you require every volunteer to reconfigure their phone to use a supplied email address and email server?
You get 2000 random typed emails in different formats, because there is no way you can have an auto fill template that works on all mobile email
How do you validate the emails?
How do you check that you haven't lost or miss-transcribed one?
Probably a simple web page would have been easier, but it should have been possible to write a simple app to send a few numbers to a server
You get 2000 random typed emails in different formats, because there is no way you can have an auto fill template that works on all mobile email
How do you validate the emails?
Could one register the "official" sending email for each precinct, test that it transmits from the caucus site a week ahead of time, maybe even send a "send to all" email to those addresses when the results are required (could be done repeatedly for those interim totals) and then tabulate the replies?
Anon because anything political is a hot button now....
Could have even just been a website:
1) fire-up browser on phone (or tablet, or laptop, or desktop, anything a browser can run on)
2) navigate to https://....
4) enter data.
While areas that had connection issues would still potentially have issues, the connection quality for accessing a website, and the bandwidth/speed, is significantly less than downloading an 'app'.
Why even bother with email? Just have the party set up a temporary call center. It's for one night (OK, you'll probably want the call center staffed for 48 hours or so, in case of problems), and there are fewer than 1800 precincts calling in.
There are any number of ways to authenticate callers for a specialized application like this.
There's really no reason to involve user-facing computer applications at all.
I'm hoping Shadow dies a quick and well-deserved death. US elections need less Internet, not more.
BTW, congratulations on a well written story that seems to cover almost all the points one might be curious about. My one remaining question. Iowa is pretty rural. And it's also pretty bumpy -- low hills. Nothing one would call a mountain, but more than enough I should think to make cell phone reception iffy in some places. Is it even possible for their app to work as intended in the more remote (in Internet space) precincts?
"that point is briefly addressed"
Yes. I read that. But there is a difference between obtuse/difficult/frustrating (which pretty much sums up much of the digital revolution if you ask me) and actually impossible without driving eight kilometers down the road from the polling place and climbing a hillside in order to get two bars on your cell phone. And yes, cell phone service used really to be that bad in many parts of rural America. ... It may still be which is why I asked.
It's true that a lot of the land area of Iowa is rural, though that's true of most states. (Looking at the Census Bureau map, I think Connecticut, Hawaii, and Rhode Island are the only states with no rural counties, by the CB's definition.)
Nearly 2/3 of the population of Iowa lives in an urban area. While Iowa precinct maps turn out to be a pain the ass to read (the Secretary of State website has them as per-county PDFs, and the county websites all use excessive scripting), I assume the precincts cluster by population.
But there will still be some rural precincts, and a couple coverage maps I looked at suggested there might be some dead zones. So, yeah, it might well go beyond "slow download" to "no signal at all".
There's some weird sh*t about the app.
1. It had to be side-loaded onto the phones.
2. Pete Buttigieg (the highest polling candidate) contributed a shit-ton of money to the main investment company (ACRONYM) of Shadow Inc.
3. Shadow is a horrible name for a company that electronically tallies votes for the USA's Republic and democracy.
The managerial fools who authorized this whole thing seem to have managed to tick every single Do Not Do This point that any IT person with any experience could possibly point out.
I have one question left : what's the point of impeaching Trump when you bloody morons can't manage a voting project properly in the first place ?
The point of impeaching Trump is political theater.
No one in the House dreamed for a second that the Senate would convict. (That would have been disastrous for the Democrats.) They impeached suspecting that McConnell wouldn't be able to resist putting on a blatant show trial, because McConnell can't resist throwing his weight around here at the very peak of his power. And they counted on that to "energize the base", to use a favorite cliche of the party machinery.
McConnell is probably hoping for the same effect, because he knows he's putting some vulnerable Republican senators at risk. But ultimately I suspect he doesn't care. He's king of the hill at the moment and his only real pleasure is pushing other people down. He has no policy agenda of his own (he's a champion flip-flopper, having once fillibustered his own bill); all indications are that he's only interested in power for the sake of power, and his route to it has been obstruction, so obstruct he will.
Basically, the point of impeaching Trump was to highlight McConnell again for the professional bully that he is, in the hope of increasing Democrat turnout in November, and maybe irritating some of the former anyone-but-Trump Republican voters into staying home.
Will it work? Hell, we'll probably never really know. But Democrats control the House and they had to be seen as doing something other than papering McConnell's desk with bills that will never get a hearing.
"That was fine for the occasional 20-something that acted as a caucus chair and who is perfectly comfortable with downloading and trying out new smartphone apps"
Misplaced ageism. TV news reported one precinct manager was 18 years old and he couldn't use it due to an opaque error message.
I thought it was Arizona rather than Nevada that also plans to use the app on the 22nd, but the solution is obvious - have a well staffed office with enough phone lines as a backup. That's what really failed in Iowa.
As a tech guy I have to say the best elections have the least tech.
As a Brit constantly learning more about the obscure and arcane framework of US politics, just WTF? Let me get this straight. You have to register with a party to get a vote, fair enough. Then you have to turn up in a wee room to cast a vote. Then if your chosen candidate doesn't make the top two in that wee room then you have to vote for someone else. Then the room vote is eventually phoned in to the state tally, and the number of delegates depends on those totals That is so 17th century.
Here's an idea, a single transferable vote nationwide on a paper ballot on a single night. Everyone eligible rates the candidates from best to worst. The popular vote wins once the ballots are hand counted. All over in a couple of days.
I fully agree, the Labour leadership should just be elected by Labour party members. Instead it's a combination of them, the existing MPs and major unions.
The Tory party is worse, BoJo was originally made PM by around 90,000 party member votes, 30,000 of whom had just joined for that vote. He later got elected in a General Election, which is more sensible than the US system(s) but still. First Past the Post is silly. You need to look to Scotland for sensible voting systems.
If it's anything like the way the Australian Labor Party determines its leadership, the votes are unequally weighted. The general membership votes for a leader as a bloc and the parliamentary party members vote as a bloc. Each bloc represents 50% of the ballot so a parliamentary member's vote is effectively worth many general member votes. As such, it would be pointless for a parliamentary member to also vote as a general member, even if they were eligible.
<quote>Wouldn't existing MPs (at least labour ones) be Labour party members?</ quote?
You think so? I remember the Labour party of the 1970's and 80's.... Comunist, militant tendancy, etc - all those little sub-parties, more interested in themselves and their back room machinations and petty politics than the good of either Labour or the country... Corbyn was (unfortunately) from that era really. Bit like Foot in his day - left wing, intelligent, but uncharasmatic to normal people. Not a great strategist, but a good party tactician.
There hasn't been a union block vote in UK Labour leadership elections since the early 90s; MPs vote as members, not as MPs (they are both part of the nomination process though). Individual Union members get to vote individually (if they pay the political levy), as do members of afiliated organisations (like the Fabians). No matter how many you are a member of, you get one vote.
the Labour leadership should just be elected by Labour party members
This is fine right up to the point that you want your party to be elected by the wider public. I realise that wasn't a priority for Jezza and is considered passé by Momentum, but at some point Labour may want to take responsibility for implementing policy in the challenging environment of government rather than just sloganising from the sidelines.
The problem with party members is that they're largely headbangers and their leadership picks are pretty indigestible to the average voter. Boris is toxic and he still won (he had roughly the same vote share as Theresa May) because Magic Grandpa was even worse. That's hardly a win for the electorate.
The caucus process is intended to allow parties to pick leaders that stand some chance of being elected, something that US politicians appear genuinely to want to achieve.
Arguably, in the UK, things were better in the days in which MPs chose the party leader: at least the MPs represent the voters in their constituencies, not just the small minority of party activists. Some sort of primary system might theoretically be better, but I'm pretty sure almost noone would turn out to vote.
The study of formally defined electoral methods is called social choice theory or voting theory, and this study can take place within the field of political science, economics, or mathematics, and specifically within the subfields of game theory and mechanism design. Impossibility proofs such as Arrow's impossibility theorem demonstrate that when voters have three or more alternatives, it is not possible to design a ranked voting electoral system that reflects the preferences of individuals in a global preference of the community, present in countries with proportional representation and plurality voting.
I mean, I understand it - you'd like to have a fair system. So it seems so reasonable to criticise the unfair ones.
Pot, kettle black.
But I am sure that you are sure and that most certainly should be part of being sure enough. Or not.
I have no wish to strive for pareto optimality. I wish for a better off person to want to help a poorer person.
Your conflict seems inherently greedy and humans are a pack animal with an inherited sense of justice even dogs have. I used to pay 50% tax, and I know I could have clawed most of that back but I felt it was fair that I paid more than the less able.
I'm an anarchist so I'm not suggesting the voting systems I've proposed are just or perfect, just better than what happens in the US today. And indeed in the UK today.
For the record I didn't down vote you because you made a valid argument worth disagreeing with.
> That's not how Homo Sapiens works.
Who told you that?
I'll take you and the reporters word for Nevada. I'm emailing someone from Arizona and may have suffered brain-leak.
Let's hope they have a Plan C. The app failure looks like a self-inflicted injury but next time it makes the phone lines an easily compromised 'single point of failure'.
We really have to stop this "its just old people" BS. I'm an official 'old person' which just means I've had about 50 years worth of experience in the industry covering just about everything from 'its really an electromechanixcal tabulator with a bit of processing added' to ' its really not doing that much but we need all this horsepower because we still can't figure out how to write efficient, scalable, applications'. The one thing that separates on old geezer like me from a 20ish young person is that I actually know how all this crap works. In detail.
"Let me get this straight. You have to register with a party to get a vote, fair enough. Then you have to turn up in a wee room to cast a vote. Then if your chosen candidate doesn't make the top two in that wee room then you have to vote for someone else. Then the room vote is eventually phoned in to the state tally, and the number of delegates depends on those totals That is so 17th century."
Bear in mind, that is just the admittedly bizarre and arcane Iowa Caucus - the first in a LONG series of events in the complex presidential election process. And yes, it IS "so 17th Century." Most of the rest of the country, during this part of the process, uses "normal" election procedure.
It should also be pointed out that registration to vote is a requirement in all states so far as I know but, in some states, that can be done on election day at the voting precinct. And registering with a particular party is not always required either. Some states do require that but others do not. In addition to Republican and Democrat, at least in my home state of Louisiana and many others, one can register as Independent, No Party (not technically the same as Independent for some reason), Libertarian, or one of the "lower rung" parties like the Green, Socialist, Constitution, etc. I say "lower rung" because they typically represent single digit percentages of voters and have no significant impact on election outcomes at the national level.
Don't confound nominations with elections. The Iowa Democratic caucuses use the system that the Iowa Democratic party wishes to use. (Assuming that the legislature hasn't attempted some sort of diktat like here in Washington state.)
That's a private organization doing it's thing. The elections are in November.
Let me get this straight. You have to register with a party to get a vote, fair enough. Then you have to turn up in a wee room to cast a vote. Then if your chosen candidate doesn't make the top two in that wee room then you have to vote for someone else. Then the room vote is eventually phoned in to the state tally, and the number of delegates depends on those totals That is so 17th century.
Here's an idea, a single transferable vote nationwide on a paper ballot on a single night
I fear you have not, in fact, gotten it straight.
This is the Iowa Democratic Party Caucus. It has nothing to do with the actual election, except indirectly in helping the Democratic Party pick its candidate for the election. Nor does it apply to any other party. So "a single transferable vote nationwide" isn't applicable.
The Democratic Party bylaws - which are set by the party, and not by the government - say that each state gets to decide how to appoint its delegates to the national party convention, where the candidate for the election will be chosen. Iowa decided on this rather archaic caucus system. Most states use primaries, which are ordinary ballots, instead.
Again, this is all party business. The states get their fingers in it, for various reasons, but it's not governed by national law. (For the most part; the assembly clause of the Constitution1 was used to strike down California's "open primary" law, for example. Incidentally, an "open primary" is one where you wouldn't have to join a party to vote in that party's primary.) And so we have a fragmented, inconsistent, often-criticized system for picking each major party's candidates, because 50 states aren't going to agree on much of anything.
Also, Iowa is unlikely to switch to a primary because it likes to go first, and New Hampshire passed a law saying they get to have the first primary. If another state schedules a primary earlier, New Hampshire has to move theirs up in front of it. By (their own) law. No matter how stupid the result.
Around this time of year, every election year, you'll find plenty of editorials and position pieces suggesting the party bylaws be amended to use some more sensible system. No signs of that actually happening, though.
1The one that you can translate directly to machine code.
>>so 17th century
Yes election practices are pretty weird in the US.
However, I'm not so sure what reforms would improve things as I'm not convinced that simple majority votes are always the best way to make decisions.
Just one example that comes to mind is hunting, a rural activity that many urban dwellers view in a negative light. If put to a vote?
I like the idea of democracy, but sometimes if feels more like mobocracy.
... of Tom Scott's excellent Computerphile video "Why electronic voting is a bad idea."
Sure,a caucus isn't a traditional vote, and the app was designed to work very differently from conventional voting software (it sounds like a variation-on-a-theme of a database form), but the same basic issues (especially transparency) remain.
Of course, the US is the one country where almost all conventional voting is carried out using closed source electronic voting machines rather than the antiquated but far more secure pencil and paper with single sealed black box per polling station (pencil to mitigate against the possibility of pens being filled with disappearing ink)...
"Of course, the US is the one country where almost all conventional voting is carried out using closed source electronic voting machines"
I count myself lucky to be from one of the states that still uses paper ballots.
Same here. Paper ballots, with electronic tabulating machines. Results look weird? Results close enough that you're worried about mistakes? Challenge the election and hand count the weird spots (rules apply to avoid chaos/frivolous recounts). Election looks good, everyone's patting themselves on the back for a good job: Secretary of State's office recounts a percentage at random.
It's not the face of the national party. It's the face of the hayseeds in the small rural state of Iowa. The state is known for food production and agriculture, along with heavy industry. It's only an "important" state in the national election cycle through an accident of history.
Gee, do we need to invent a new "ism" to describe vainly smug dwellers in high density areas who think everyone else is a deplorable hayseed?
Yeah, we who produce the food, host the electricity generation, take your trash, pay taxes, and do most of the manufacturing are just uncultured hayseeds who host the city dwelling parasites. I get it - and you do know, we vote, and being looked down upon by those whose lives we make possible means we're not going to vote as you'd probably wish.
Chill, dude. As we speak, I've got shit on my boots and alfalfa in my hair (just delivered triplet lambs). I think that's the first time I've ever heard somebody call the Sonoma Valley "high density" ... although I suppose it is, compared to our place in Douglas County, Nevada.
For the record, I don't give a shit how you (or anybody else) votes ... as long as you actually understand the issues and vote for whatever works best for you and yours.
Hint: buying into a cult of personality isn't the same as understanding the issues.
I have been following this since the Monday evening US. There are several absurd things about this. First, as pointed out above, Iowa is a relatively rural state with areas that have iffy phone reception and relatively slow wired connections. Second there was no testing of the app in the field. Third the app was developed rather hastily (about 2 months from reports I have read). Fourth it had to be side-loaded on to the phone, a rather significant security stupidity. Fifth there were probably much better ways to get the data from the boonies to HQ than an app. As suggested above a dedicated web page would mean if you have internet access you can reach it fairly reliably even in the boonies, there are landlines and cable in the boonies. Sixth, there was no training on how to use the app, even computer literate people would like some training and a chance to play with an app before going live when you have other issues to deal with. Seventh, there was no reliable back up system, it was the app or bust.
While there are some concerns about Shadow (yes that is the company name), they apparently did not have enough lead time to develop, test, refine, and get the app approved for iPhone or Android stores. The primary fault appears to lay with the IDP for pathetic planning and and even more incompetent execution.
Some of the US media has been having a field day with blatant ineptitude show. Donald has already been tweeting about it as the only person who so far has won an Iowa caucus (Elephant variety) and general blundering. The conspiracy theorists are already claiming the screw up was to hurt Sanders and help Slow Joe Biden by delaying the release of the final results until mid week when the news cycle has begun to move on to New Hampshire. Partial results indicate Bernie in first, barely, and Creepy Joe is languishing in fourth. But as others have pointed out, incompetence is just as good an explanation.
The company’s core team, led by CEO Gerard Niemira, is made up of veterans of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency in 2016...Gerard Niemira, the CEO of Shadow, was the director of product for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, working on voter-outreach tools...That’s one reason clarifying the relationship between Shadow and Acronym is important. McGowan’s husband, Michael Halle, was Hillary Clinton’s lead organizer in Iowa, and has deep links to the state-party infrastructure. For those upset by the caucus situation—particularly Bernie Sanders supporters who have long had beef with the Democratic hierarchy—the fact that Halle is now a Buttigieg adviser won’t do anything to tamp down their anger. Ben Halle, Michael’s brother, is Buttigieg’s Iowa communications director
Ever since I became a US citizen I've been volunteerng at the polls. This being 'merka we've always been in thrall to state of the art gadgets and gizmos so in our corner of the USofA we've been hauling optical ballot readers and vote tabulators to the polls plus a touch screen device that's ADA compliant. Reuslts are read into memory packs, printed, collated and what-have-you to return from the polling place at the end of the night. This stuff's been getting a bit long in the tooth -- one of the memory packs is about the size of a Raspberry Pi -- so this year the county replaced all the old kit with all new stuff. I was eager to see what we've got.....
What we've ended up with is a sealed box that collects the marked ballots. At the end of the night we transport this box to a collection point where all the other boxes from the area are transported to a central location for counting. Counting uses some kind of sophisticated machinery -- well, our elections are more complicated than yours, if we used armies of volunteers it would take weeks to figure it out -- but there's still the same process as the UK -- the chain of custody of the ballots, people observing the count and so on. We've gone forward by going backwards.
We do have some concession to technology. We have an ADA compliant touch screen voting device but it doesn't record the vote, it just prints out a marked ballot using a laser printer, the ballot going into the box with all the others. I should remark that the device that reads the ballots, matches signature and so on is quite sophisticated (it needs to match signatures for postal votes) but we on the front lines are really back to the pencil and paper days.
The electoral college needs some tightening up, but it's still better than a straight popular vote. The 9 or 10 largest cities in the country would be selecting the President with a popular vote and typically for the Democratic candidate as that's the party with most of the free stuff and lots of poor city dwellers live on those hand-outs. If the contest was a bit closer, it might take a few more large cities, but the vast majority of voters would be relieving themselves into the wind with their votes.
So far, the few unfaithful electors haven't compromised an election but every time there is some, it draws more attention to the loophole.
Both President Trump and Hillary Clinton admitted that they would have run their campaigns far differently if the election was based on a popular vote. I suspect that both of them would have been running circuits around those large cities and letting everywhere else go hang. The chances of even seeing a commercial on TV from one of them in North Dakota would have been next to zero.
For a number of years, I did IT for a school in a rural area in Vermont. During that period, we got about half a dozen automated response surveys from various bureaucracies demanding that we provide data on various topics of great interest to society. The number of left handed students with overdue library books and such. Each provided a different tool for us to return our response. Not one of those tools worked without tinkering.
Maybe this data collection thing is harder than it looks.
Did you carry out stakeholder engagement to check your project is necessary and appropriate?
Clearly yes they engaged with every stakeholder in the development room at "Shadow" who all thought everything was spiffing and wonderful and the colours were nice and well who doesn't have a nice new iPhone XS with unlimited data and 4 bars of connection?
Each precinct is provided with a sealed envelope which is opened after the votes in the precinct have been tallied. It contains a (scratch to reveal) document which lists:
1) The telephone number to send the message to
2) A unique random password
2) The order in which the values should be listed
Upon receipt of each message, the server side validates the contents. If valid, a confirmation message is sent and, after optionally requiring a response to confirm the correct numbers were received, the precinct is marked as reported and data shoved into db. If it is invalid (e.g. typo) a message is sent requesting resubmission. Can I have my $60k please?
Sherlock: because it's all elementary.
So to win the nomination you have to basically win 50 state elections. States especially smaller and more rural ones jealously guard their privileges in this regard.
That is why both Iowa and New Hampshire cling to their traditional status as first in the nation. They get a lot of attention, local politicians are not ignored by national politicians, money from reporters and campaign staff etc.... That also means you have different organizations for each state and party each with their own rules and people. It's a bit of a mess but like an old working program it is not likely to get changed.
ok so there are a million ways they could have done this better:
Starting with looking at the people that were actually going to use the thing, and the conditions they were going to use it in.
Following up by using a technology they could handle, and a solution that made sense to them
Then using a collection method that worked in all the locations, or a central system that could handle mutliple methods.
Then making and releasing it with enough time to test and fix any issues, an to allow those who had to use it to be trained.
Come on Guys you had 4 years to sort this since the issues last time round, and you only started after the mid-terms?
Oh and really, links to the campaigns too, just a licence for a lawsuit!
if Mayor Pete wins, as it looks like, expect both Warren and burnie to challenge and the whole thing to end in much more of a farse.
If voting in an election is important, it shouldn't be an issue to get yourself to a polling place on the day. If you can't, there are mail in ballots. Trying to mix in cell phones and online voting is just asking for troubles. Having stanch supporters of one party or another or one candidate or another in charge of the software is criminal. Regardless of how neutral they actually are, there will always be the suspicion of dirty dealing.
Slower can be better. People register to vote, the registrar verifies the eligibility of the applicant and on election day, the registered voter shows up at a monitored voting place, shows an ID that corresponds with the list on hand and is given a ballot with no recording of which numbered ballot they are issued. Votes are private and need to have that air-gap. The voter records their vote on a physical and very low tech piece of paper which is then placed in a locked box that is sent still locked to a monitored counting location. Slow, low tech, methodical, rigorous. Ballots can be counted several times by different people so tallies can be cross checked to weed out any dishonest counters.
Maybe Veruca Salt was cloned and got jobs at the media outlets and they all "want it now". If the process takes a couple of days but is very secure against tampering, I'm happy to wait. One would think that an extra day or two of "experts" spouting their predictions and opinions on the news 24/7 would make more advertising revenue. After a year following the last lawsuit filed by sore losers, the ballots can be recycled into new paper for the next election.