On Monday night, the Democratic Iowa Caucuses melted down. Actually, they didn't melt down. They worked as well as expected. It was the reporting of the results from the caucuses that melted down, almost entirely due to a smartphone app that either didn't work as planned --- or because untrained precinct captains had trouble using it for its intended purpose: to send local, transparent, fully publicly overseen caucus site results to the the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters for release to the media. Of course, as we have warned for more than 15 years, it is always a terrible idea to use new, untested, secretly-developed, nontransparent, unnecessary computer technology for mission critical, cannot-fail elections.
On today's BradCast [Audio link posted below], we explain both the Iowa caucus process (which, itself, is actually among the most transparent --- if most complex --- of all the Presidential nominating contests); the known history of this app that failed so spectacularly after warnings by cybersecurity professionals (and by us on this program previously) against its use were ignored; how the app was supposed to work; and the problems from the 2016 caucuses (and even 2012 Republican Caucus in Iowa) that it was meant to solve.
(Relatedly, we also share a :30 second preview clip, featuring me, from CBS-2 Los Angeles, for an investigative report on Los Angeles County's new, untested, 100% unverifiable, $300,000,000 touchscreen voting systems that are being deployed for the March 3rd Super Tuesday primary election here for the first time in the nation's most populous county, despite warnings from cybersecurity and, yes, us. That story, and the warnings I offer in the preview --- and, hopefully, in the full story set to air on CBS-LA this evening --- have suddenly become even more wildly relevant over the past 12 hours or so than they were previously.)
If you take nothing else from all of this, please let it be that even if tech like this works perfectly (it never does), if the public cannot know that it did, confidence in democracy itself is deeply endangered. Though we've been issuing that warning for years, it is more true today than ever, especially after years of tossing additional computer "solutions" at our elections, no matter how dangerous it will be once again in 2020. As one longtime Election Integrity advocate emailed me today, somewhat sarcastically: "Who would have ever thought that using computers for election administration could cause problems? Aren't they supposed to make processes go more easily, more smoothly, faster, more accurate? What a stunner that everything descended into chaos when Iowa Democrats changed from their manual counting/reporting methods to move into the 21st century with computers!"
Before we get to our guest today then, with whom we also discuss all of this, perhaps I can summarize the lessons learned for the moment from Iowa as...A) the madness of using untested, secretly-developed, nontransparent new tech in mission critical elections; B) the importance of publicly overseen results tabulated by humans at the polling place (which Iowa has, despite the app meltdown, so the correct results will EVENTUALLY be known!) and; C) the absurdly complex procedures of the Iowa Caucus itself (on the Dem side --- the GOP side is far simpler) is a nice example of the complications and dangers in store for those who persist in calling for a Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) system. Given the complicated way the Iowa Democratic caucuses work (realignment of votes through several rounds of voting/counting after some candidates do not meet the viability threshold, etc.), it is very similar to RCV or Instant Runnoff Voting (IRV).
If you think the raw numbers, once they fully come out from Iowa, are impossible to understand and add up, just wait until RCV takes hold. As I almost always note on this topic: If you think we have enough trouble as is, transparently adding 1 + 1 + 1 in our elections in a way that can be publicly overseen and understood, just wait until we add the complicated, computer- and central-tabulation required algebra of Ranked Choice Voting to the matter!
Halfway through today's show, the Iowa Democratic Party finally released results from Monday night....well, just 62% of them, incredibly enough. They show Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders in a virtual tie, followed by Elizabeth Warren and then Joe Biden, with Amy Klobuchar not too far behind. But, again, those are only partial numbers, so we don't need to spend too much time on them for now.
We're joined today by the great JOHN NICHOLS of The Nation, just back from Iowa, for an explanation --- and a rant or two --- about all of the above and whether Democratic supporters of several different candidates should be furious...or just breathe...as all of this is ultimately sorted out. There is a lot to discuss with John, who explains why he believes "caucuses suck" and the "scorching, huge damage" this all will have done to the Democratic Party and democracy itself. We agree on some points and disagree on others. But there is just far too much to detail here. So I suggest you just buckle up and tune in today!
Finally, Desi Doyen joins us to let it go, with our latest Green News Report...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)