Neoliberal hubris and the Iowa fiasco

The Iowa Democratic Party caucuses ended in a fiasco with the count.[1] At this writing, over 24 hours later, we still do not have final results.

An app that was supposed to be used to tally the results is at least partly to blame and as I was picking up the pieces, it was apparent to me that testing was woefully deficient.[2]

My problem here is that, once upon a time, I was a computer programmer. With apologies to Star Wars, it was a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. I saw other programmers’ code then. I saw their arrogance. And I’ve certainly seen enough buggy code fobbed off on users since to know that they really haven’t gotten any better.

And it’s really kind of amazing to me that anybody believes them. Probably even recklessly negligently amazing.

“It is striking that these technology issues are back, and back with a vengeance,” [Lida Rodriguez-Taseff] told the Guardian. “The technology we use on a daily basis may be incredibly advanced and sophisticated … but voting has been left to bottom-feeding companies that have not adhered to the highest standards and have often gotten to where they are because of political connections, not the quality of their product.”[3]

FiveThirtyEight picked up the pieces, too. They’re much more polite[4] than I was in my initial response.[5] Nonetheless,

“One of the reasons election security is such a difficult problem to solve is because the people who are operating elections aren’t tech people,” [Maggie] MacAlpine said. “They’re often retirees, people who are trying to help their community.”

Compounding the issue, many of these events also take place in rural areas where cell phone reception is less reliable. In that way, even if the app functioned perfectly, it already failed on a practical level if the people who were intended to use it didn’t understand it or couldn’t access it.

But, according to the Iowa Democratic Party, the app didn’t work perfectly, either.

“While the app was recording data accurately, it was reporting out only partial data,” Troy Price, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, said in a statement released Tuesday morning, adding that the error was due to a coding issue that was later fixed.

Though the party still isn’t revealing many details about how the app was tested beforehand, a bug like this suggests it was not adequately tested at scale in the way it would be used on caucus night.[6]

On top of that, it turns out the Clintons are involved in a way that stinks to high heaven of self-dealing. And one of the Democratic presidential contenders was involved in a way that stinks to high heaven of self-dealing.[7]
At the very least, one has to question this relationship:

Shadow Inc. [the app maker] was launched by ACRONYM, a nonprofit corporation founded in 2017 by Tara McGowan, a political strategist who runs companies aimed at promoting Democratic candidates and priorities. McGowan, 34, is married to Michael Halle, a senior strategist for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, which records show has also paid Shadow Inc. $42,500 for software.[8]

And this certainly won’t help anybody on the left rest easy with their relationship with the Democratic (neoliberal) Party:

David Plouffe, who helped lead both of former President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, joined ACRONYM’s board of directors in September.

Just who works at Shadow was not clear on the company’s webpage Tuesday. But resumes posted on the online business networking site LinkedIn show the company’s top executives all worked in the Clinton campaign’s digital operation in 2016.[9]

So at least two of these three things is true:

  1. The Iowa Democratic Party was recklessly negligent in deploying this app.[10]
  2. The app maker is deeply connected to the mainstream of the Democratic Party, especially including the Clintons and Barack Obama, and to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.[11]
  3. There’s some really sleazy ass shit going on here. Which would be in character, especially for folks who seem really, really desperate to stop progressives.[12] The question here would be whether they really thought they could get away with it. Neoliberal hubris says yes and, looking at the caucus count so far,[13] they might have pulled it off.

At this writing, Bernie Sanders holds a one percent lead over Buttigieg in the popular count[14] and, conversely, Buttigieg has a lead of 25 in the caucus count.[15] But ballot box stuffing is a very old game that politicians have been playing for a very long time. Technology can hide that game with convoluted obscurantist code, especially when it’s proprietary. And folks will be wondering if that’s what’s been happening here for a while.

  1. [1]John McCormick and Ken Thomas, “Democratic Caucus Results in Iowa Thrown Into State of Confusion,” Wall Street Journal, February 4, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iowa-caucuses-to-kick-off-democratic-nominating-contest-11580731200; Natasha Korecki, David Siders, and Alex Thompson, “‘It’s a total meltdown’: Confusion seizes Iowa as officials struggle to report results,” Politico, February 4, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/03/iowa-caucus-2020-election-110600
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Neoconservatives like Pete Buttigieg,” Irregular Bullshit, February 4, 2020, https://disunitedstates.com/2020/02/04/neoconservatives-like-pete-buttigieg/
  3. [3]Andrew Gumbel, “Iowa and the grand tradition of election tech mishaps,” Guardian, February 5, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/05/iowa-election-tech-issues-florida
  4. [4]Kaleigh Rogers, “Iowa Democrats Should Have Known Better Than To Use An App,” FiveThirtyEight, February 4, 2020, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/iowa-democrats-should-have-known-better-than-to-use-an-app/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Neoconservatives like Pete Buttigieg,” Irregular Bullshit, February 4, 2020, https://disunitedstates.com/2020/02/04/neoconservatives-like-pete-buttigieg/
  6. [6]Kaleigh Rogers, “Iowa Democrats Should Have Known Better Than To Use An App,” FiveThirtyEight, February 4, 2020, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/iowa-democrats-should-have-known-better-than-to-use-an-app/
  7. [7]Michael Biesecker and Brian Slodysko, “Maker of glitchy Iowa caucus app has Democratic Party ties,” Associated Press, February 4, 2020, https://apnews.com/5232ce5601996c1de440806ad30fa4fb
  8. [8]Michael Biesecker and Brian Slodysko, “Maker of glitchy Iowa caucus app has Democratic Party ties,” Associated Press, February 4, 2020, https://apnews.com/5232ce5601996c1de440806ad30fa4fb
  9. [9]Michael Biesecker and Brian Slodysko, “Maker of glitchy Iowa caucus app has Democratic Party ties,” Associated Press, February 4, 2020, https://apnews.com/5232ce5601996c1de440806ad30fa4fb
  10. [10]Kaleigh Rogers, “Iowa Democrats Should Have Known Better Than To Use An App,” FiveThirtyEight, February 4, 2020, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/iowa-democrats-should-have-known-better-than-to-use-an-app/
  11. [11]Michael Biesecker and Brian Slodysko, “Maker of glitchy Iowa caucus app has Democratic Party ties,” Associated Press, February 4, 2020, https://apnews.com/5232ce5601996c1de440806ad30fa4fb
  12. [12]Donna Brazile, “Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC,” Politico, November 2, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/02/clinton-brazile-hacks-2016-215774; Justine Coleman, “Obama privately said he would speak up to stop Sanders: report,” Hill, November 26, 2019, https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/472090-obama-privately-said-he-would-speak-up-to-stop-sanders-report; Shane Goldmacher, “Hillary Clinton Slams Bernie Sanders for Not Working to Unite Democrats in 2016,” New York Times, January 31, 2020, ttps://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/31/us/politics/hillary-clinton-bernie-sanders.html; Ryan Lizza, “Waiting for Obama,” Politico, November 26, 2019, https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2019/11/26/barack-obama-2020-democrats-candidates-biden-073025; Dan Merica, “Hillary Clinton suggests Russians are ‘grooming’ Tulsi Gabbard for third-party run,” CNN, October 21, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/18/politics/hillary-clinton-tulsi-gabbard/index.html; Alex Shephard, “The Impotence of ‘Stop Sanders’ Democrats,” New Republic, April 18, 2019, https://newrepublic.com/article/153605/impotence-stop-sanders-democrats
  13. [13]Associated Press, “Iowa Elections Results,” February 5, 2020, https://elections.ap.org/dailykos/results/2020-02-03/state/IA/race/P/raceid/17275
  14. [14]Associated Press, “Iowa Elections Results,” February 5, 2020, https://elections.ap.org/dailykos/results/2020-02-03/state/IA/race/P/raceid/17278
  15. [15]Associated Press, “Iowa Elections Results,” February 5, 2020, https://elections.ap.org/dailykos/results/2020-02-03/state/IA/race/P/raceid/17275

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