The New York Times Company
The faulty smartphone app behind the chaotic aftermath of Iowa’s Democratic caucuses was the work of a little-known company called Shadow Inc. that was founded by veterans of Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, and whose previous work was marked by a string of failures, including a near bankruptcy.
The app grew out of a broader push by Democrats, backed by tens of millions of dollars in donor money, to match the Republicans’ prowess in digital advertising and organizing after the 2016 election. Much of the energy and investment have gone into enterprises that are intended to both boost the Democrats’ digital game and turn a profit, like Shadow.
Yet instead of showcasing how far the Democrats had come since the 2016 defeat, the disarray surrounding the Iowa caucuses raised new questions about how the party hopes to compete in 2020 with the Trump campaign, a digital juggernaut that is churning out ads and raising record sums of money.
Given less than two months to build an app for reporting caucus results to the Iowa Democratic Party, Shadow produced technology that proved difficult to download and use and ended up delivering incorrect tallies. Iowa’s Democrats blamed a “coding issue” in the app, and the party said it would resort to a time-consuming manual tally based on information called in by precinct chairs or pictures sent on their smartphones — the same ones on which they could not make the app work.
With the wait on results dragging into Tuesday evening, many in the party began dissecting what turned the Democrats’ first contest of the 2020 election into a chaotic display, starting with Shadow, and its main backer, Acronym, a progressive nonprofit that is focused on helping Democrats regain their digital edge.
Shadow, in a tweet, said, “We sincerely regret the delay in the reporting of the results of last night’s Iowa caucuses and the uncertainty it has caused.” But the company offered no explanation for what went wrong, though Democratic officials said that data had been incorrectly transmitted from the app to a central database, and that many users had been unable to follow the complicated process for installing the app on their phones.