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Officials from the 68th caucus precinct overlook the results of the first referendum count during a caucus event on February 3, 2020 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images)

After Epic 'Nightmare' in Iowa, Democratic App Built by Secretive Firm Shadow Inc. Comes Under Scrutiny

"This outfit is inexcusably secretive."

Jake Johnson

Amid all the finger-pointing and anger that followed the nightmarish Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses Monday night, many journalists and progressive observers homed in on the smartphone app the state Democratic Party used—with disastrous consequences—to record and report the results of the highly anticipated contest.

"The DNC and the Iowa Democratic Party have engineered a nightmare. People are going to lose their minds over the result, whatever it is. Epic, raw incompetence."
—Zach Carter, HuffPost

The app, according to several news reports, was developed by the secretive for-profit tech firm Shadow Inc., which has ties to and receives funding from ACRONYM, a Democratic digital non-profit organization. Shadow's CEO is Gerard Niemira, who worked on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.

"State campaign finance records indicate the Iowa Democratic Party paid Shadow... more than $60,000 for 'website development' over two installments in November and December of last year," HuffPost reported late Monday. "A Democratic source with knowledge of the process said those payments were for the app that caucus site leaders were supposed to use to upload the results at their locales."

Shadow has also been paid for services by the Nevada Democratic Party and the presidential campaigns of former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Democratic Party officials kept the details of the app as well as Shadow's involvement hidden from the public ahead of the Iowa caucus. But as Monday night wore on and frustration with the delayed reporting of the caucus results boiled over, journalists began scrutinizing the new technology and its developer more closely.

The New York Times, citing anonymous people who were briefed on the app by Iowa Democratic Party officials, reported that the app was hastily constructed in just two months and "not properly tested at a statewide scale."

"The party decided to use the app only after another proposal for reporting votes—which entailed having caucus participants call in their votes over the phone—was abandoned, on the advice of Democratic National Committee officials," the Times reported.

"The secrecy around the app this year came from the Iowa Democratic Party, which asked that even its name be withheld from the public," according to the Times. "There were concerns that the app would malfunction in areas with poor connectivity, or because of high bandwidth use, such as when many people tried to use it at the same time."

Mandy McClure, communications director of the Iowa Democratic Party, said in a statement that the new app was not responsible for the delayed results.

"This is simply a reporting issue," said McClure. "The app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results."

Results of the caucuses are expected Tuesday, but no specific time has been given. The presidential campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Buttigieg released portions of their internal caucus data suggesting they emerged victorious from the bungled process.

In a statement released in the early hours of Tuesday morning, ACRONYM spokesperson Kyle Tharpe attempted to distance his group from Shadow's technology.

"ACRONYM is an investor in several for-profit companies across the progressive media and technology sectors," said Tharpe. "One of those independent, for-profit companies is Shadow Inc., which also has other private investors. We are reading confirmed reports of Shadow's work with the Iowa Democratic Party on Twitter, and we, like everyone else, are eagerly awaiting more information from the Iowa Democratic Party with respect to what happened."


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