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IT Incompetence Caused the Iowa Democratic Caucus Catastrophe

By Duane Thresher, Ph.D.          February 7, 2020

The Iowa Democratic Caucus was held February 3rd. "Caucus" is Latin for "drinking vessel" and historically (maybe even today) meant a private meeting in a smoke-filled back room to pre-select candidates for public office. The 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus is very important because it is the first primary of the 2020 presidential election, the Democratic field is crowded with no clear leaders, and the winner would get a big boost. Thus the results should have been reported quickly, the evening of the caucus. But due to IT incompetence they weren't, it was days later. This left the Democrats looking foolish — if you can't run a relatively simple caucus how can you run the U.S. or even healthcare? — which lost them votes and money.

Even the reporting of the cause of the caucus catastrophe was IT incompetent. It was reported in an article by the New York Times, which is very biased towards the Democrats to begin with so if they reported it at all, it must indeed have been a catastrophe. Two of the article authors, apparently chosen for their (fake) cybersecurity expertise, are long-time members of the Media IT Incompetents Hall Of Shame: Nicole Perlroth and Sheera Frenkel. In the article they missed or misreported most of the important IT, which I will correct here.

What happened was that the Democrats who organized the caucus were classic spoiled liberals, many women, who spend most of their time playing on their smart phones and living well in East/West Coast cities with very good cell coverage and capacity. They thus insisted the caucus could be run by smart phone, particularly the result reporting, and were completely unprepared for rural and small-town Iowa, which is just a "flyover state" to them.

Further, they needed an app on their smart phones for this and instead of hiring IT experts to create this they hired a company composed of IT incompetent liberals like themselves. I'll discuss the IT incompetent aspect first, then the liberals aspect. (Note that "liberals" are trying to rebrand themselves as "progressives" since Ronald Reagan made "liberal" a dirty word in the 1980's. Interestingly, the last time there were "progressives" in the U.S. was 1948 and they were heavily influenced by communists, to the point of wanting to ally with communist Russia, i.e. the Soviet Union.)

To get an app like this to work you have to be an expert on the network behind it. This is more electrical engineering than computer science. You can't just create (often no programming is required) a "pretty" app or website (apps and websites are often intertwined). The capacity of the cellular network has to be considered, which in Iowa is limited, as indicated. Even in big cities, during high call volume times (events, emergencies, etc.) the cellular network may become overloaded ("all lines are busy at this time"). I know from experience: I was living in New York City during 9/11 and during the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003.

Perhaps more importantly in this caucus catastrophe case, the server for the app/website has to be able to handle the load. Anyone with real IT expertise would know to use multiple servers, enough to handle the estimated maximum load (which requires a mathematical calculation), with a load balancer. Not doing so is the same IT incompetence that made (the Obamacare website) useless when it was first rolled out, dooming it to failure. Not doing so results in dropping data and not being able to log in to the app/website, which is what happened in the caucus catastrophe.

The caucus catastrophe was not caused by hackers, although it could just as easily have been, since IT incompetence is the cause of data breaches.

The IT incompetent New York Times considered the most important part of the story to be that the company the Democrats hired to create the app/website was composed of liberals from Hillary Clinton's failed 2016 presidential campaign.

Given Hillary's loss of the 2016 presidential election due to her IT incompetent, thus insecure, use of a private email server for government business, some of it top secret — set up by IT incompetent Bryan Pagliano, her 2008 presidential campaign IT director — anyone should have guessed her supporters were going to be IT incompetent. The New York Times didn't even bother to check the IT qualifications of those in the company. IT incompetents can't and won't judge IT competence. I can and did.

The liberal IT incompetent company is Shadow Inc, which is a suspicious name to begin with ("shadow ink", the writing behind the writing, get it?). Their mission is to "build political power for the progressive movement with technological infrastructure".

This is from their website. What is .io? It's the domain of a foreign country, the British Indian Ocean Territory, which is mostly the Chagos Archipelago. I suppose Shadow Inc uses .io because they think it sounds computerish, like I/O, input/output. It's certainly not very "progressive", or what they claim to be, saviors of the oppressed. The native Chagossians were forcibly removed from their islands by the British between 1968 and 1973 and profits from the sale of .io domains by the British are supposed to go to help the Chagossians, but they have not received a penny.

An IT education — a degree in electrical engineering and/or computer science from a good university — is the most important IT qualification so I looked at the educations of those in Shadow Inc.

Not surprisingly, the website offers only the name of the CEO, Gerard Niemira (on the home page in the apology for the caucus catastrophe), so I used LinkedIn (which is essentially a database of IT incompetents advertising themselves to each other). Shadow Inc's LinkedIn page says it has 10 or less employees and lists eight, which is possibly all of them. Their names aren't given and their individual LinkedIn pages can't be reached from there. More exhaustive searching resulted in six of their individual LinkedIn pages being found. The company is indeed shadowy, which is always a good indication an IT company is hiding their IT incompetence.

Gerard Niemira is CEO at Shadow Inc. As head, and probably a founder, of a "technological infrastructure" company you would rightfully expect he was an IT expert. Incredibly, he only has a BA in history.

James Hickey is COO (Chief Operating Officer) at Shadow Inc. Incredibly, he only has a BA in music. Do you remember Susan Mauldin, the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Equifax during the massive Equifax data breach? She only had a BA in music too.

Isabel Michaelides is the UI (User Interface) Designer at Shadow Inc. She would have designed the part of the app/website users saw and interacted with. Incredibly, she only has a BA in architecture.

Sused Cabrera is a Junior Frontend Developer at Shadow Inc. She too would have designed the part of the app/website users saw and interacted with. Incredibly, she only has a BA in Spanish.

Xavier Munroe is a Junior Frontend Web Developer at Shadow Inc. He too would have designed the part of the app/website users saw and interacted with. Incredibly, he only has a BA in history.

Krista Davis is CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at Shadow Inc. The company seems to be pretending they have some IT expertise based just on her. She claims to have a BS in computer science. However, the first thing she says on her LinkedIn page is "I love optimizing large systems and showing the impact with pretty graphs". "Optimizing large systems" sounds very computerish but is meaningless. The "pretty graphs" part makes it clear that she, Isabel Michaelides, Sused Cabrera, and Xavier Munroe got together and designed a "pretty" app/website frontend for the caucus catastrophe. As I discussed though, the problem, more of an electrical engineering one than computer science, was the network behind the app/website, which they were clearly clueless about.

Of course the Democratic Party never learns from its mistakes so Shadow Inc will continue to show up, and screw up, throughout the 2020 presidential election.