MEDL Mobile

Voting App Causes Chaos at Iowa Caucuses

february 5, 2020

Thumbs down votes on a voting app illustration

The Iowa Caucus is held in the winter of every presidential election cycle and marks the start of the nominating season. Even though Iowa only has 41 delegates, the Caucus can give the winner a powerful start to the election. Being the victor means receiving a huge boost in media attention and funding.

Unfortunately, “inconsistencies” over the vote reporting caused last night’s Iowa Caucuses to be extremely disorganized. In order to make it easier and faster to report results, the Democratic party stated that it would record votes using a smartphone app. According to NBC News, the Iowa Democratic County Chairman stated that their leaders “had trouble downloading and installing the app, and others received error messages.” Eventually, the democratic party had to rely on manual backups to ensure the accurateness of the results.

New York Times reported this app was “quickly put together in the past two months” using “affordable and easy-to-use tools” for a total cost of $63K. It was meant to be a replacement for the traditional voting process for the Caucuses.

While it is a great idea to improve and modernize our voting system, this gets it done fast and a cheap approach shines a negative light on apps and likely sets us backward instead of moving us forward. Most unfortunately, this debacle was likely preventable.

The lessons of the Iowa Caucus:  Use Best Practices!

  • Consistent client feedback provides collaboration and keeps all parties up to date. Don’t wait until the end to talk to your development team or your client. It’s okay to expose challenges along the way. It’s the finish line you should be aiming for.

  • Build timelines that allow work to be not only completed but also properly tested. There’s never been a product that’s perfect as a 1.0. So build iteration into your schedule.

  • Keep data safe and sound. The goal is to protect users and the personal information they have trusted us with. While it sounds like the team who built this app are not having any security challenges, it’s worth noting that fast, cheap apps don’t always protect valuable user data.

  • Follow a proven process and work with a cross-functional team of developers, designers, and project managers who share ownership of the product. Again, we don’t know how this one was built – but we do know that when the whole team shares ownership, none of the team members let a product fail.

  • And last but not least when you’re testing a product, don’t test it like you want it to pass, test it like you’re trying to make it fail.

“Having built a few hundred apps over the last decade, we’ve learned that there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to build an app.” said Dave Swartz, cofounder of MEDL Mobile. “And if you don’t follow a solid, proven process, your launch day just isn’t going to be fun.”


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