I woke up this morning to a text from a close friend wondering how long it would take me to write about the fact that as of this writing, we still do not have results from the Iowa caucuses last night due to problems with its untried voting app. I guess I’m firmly established on the “get off my lawn” beat.
The little-known corollary to the time-honored maxim “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is “if it’s broke, don’t replace it with something worse.” The list of potential problems with using mobile technology for something as important as voting is long. Rule One might be “don’t hire a company named ‘Shadow, Inc.’ to build your app.” A fellow Hoya, Matt Blaze, a professor of computer science and law at Georgetown, said that “any type of app or program that relies on using a cellphone network to deliver results is vulnerable to problems both on the app and on the phones being used to run it . . . and that “[t]he consensus . . . is unequivocal . . .[i]nternet and mobile voting should not be used at this time in civil elections.”
Any remote access application will add complexity to a task due to the need for identification, authentication, authorization, and security, of both the device and the person using it, as opposed to a simpler system based on paper or a single machine for each location where any caucus participant could authenticate herself in person. Multiple technology platforms simply increase complexity and likelihood of error. And, as I learned in the mobile payment world, if you are relying on good cell service or wifi availability for your app to do its work, you’re gonna have some unhappy end-users.
Add to these inherent problems that the app was reportedly only put together over the last two months and was inadequately tested. (Apparently, it was the back-up plan; the original plan was to use the phone to call in votes. “Hi, do you have Pete Buttigieg in a can?”)
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I have been bringing a yellow legal pad and ballpoint (or “ink pen” down here) to meetings for years. Clients and colleagues regularly smile indulgently, as if I had just set a butter churn down on the table. My stock response might be appropriate for the beleaguered folks in Iowa and I offer it here for free: Paper rarely goes down, never needs to be recharged, doesn’t need an adapter and, best of all: I know how it works.