The IowaRecorder app, the shoddy mobile software developed to tally votes in the state’s Democratic caucuses on Monday that threw the entire event into a tailspin, was just published online by Motherboard. According to editor-in-chief Jason Koebler, “Trust and transparency are core to the US electoral process,” and “that’s why Motherboard is publishing the app that malfunctioned in Iowa.”
“The app’s failure — and the widespread attention this failure has received — spurred chaos on election night, followed by speculation, conspiracy theories, and political jockeying,” Koebler writes in an article that contains a link to the Android APK file, which anyone can download and sideload onto a compatible Android smartphone. “To try to combat that misinformation, it’s necessary to offer complete transparency on what the app is, what it can and cannot do, and why it failed.”
The app itself was developed by a for-profit company called Shadow Inc., which has financial ties to numerous Democratic political campaigns and was primarily funded by the progressive nonprofit Acronym. According to numerous reports since the app malfunctioned on the night of the Iowa Caucuses, the software was hastily put together by people lacking adequate technical experience and rushed out the door in less than two months time.
Motherboard has a separate article alongside the one containing the app link that features numerous perspectives and analysis from tech and security professionals, one of which said the software looks basically like an app built by a student learning how to program and following online tutorials.
And Instead of going through proper app store review processes conducted by Apple and Google, Shadow used beta testing platforms like Apple’s TestFlight to distribute the software so it could meet the Monday deadline. So when it came time for the app to do its most critical role — letting Democratic precinct leaders report results from Iowa on Monday — it failed in every way imaginable.
Some users couldn’t even download it to begin with, while others found logging in difficult and those that did get through found the app buggy and non-responsive. The result was that votes weren’t fully tallied until more than a day later, and even now on Wednesday, the Iowa Democratic Party is still attempting to correct reporting errors in the aftermath of the app disaster.
Now, Motherboard is putting the app out in the wild to help experts further explore what exactly went wrong on Monday, how election tech like this can fail, and to promote more aggressive testing and security vetting of new and potentially risky election software. According to ProPublica, a security firm that analyzed the app found it to be vulnerable to hacking; for some reason, the Iowa Democratic Party declined an offer by the Department of Homeland Security to test the app in advance.
“Motherboard obtained a copy of the app. By decompiling and analyzing it, it’s possible to learn more about how the app was built and what might have gone wrong during the Iowa caucus,” Koebler writes. He adds that Motherboard waited to put the app online until Shadow CEO Gerard Niemira confirmed it was no longer available.
“Niemira stressed that no voter data could be accessed from the app or from any of the databases it used,” Koebler explains. “What we are publishing is an inert app that is no longer being used for an election, that the DNC has stated will not be used in future elections, and that is no longer connected to backend servers or services.”