With Iowa's first-in-the-nation franchise on the line, Republican and Democratic leaders on Friday showcased new online technology they say will ensure timely and accurate results from their February 2016 presidential nominating caucuses.
That would be a major improvement from 2012, when the results on the Republican side became mired in confusion and created an Iowa embarrassment. Any major hiccup in 2016 could further threaten the state's lead-off role, something always coveted by other states.
In a partnership with Microsoft -- one the company isn't charging for -- the 2016 tabulation will be done via a mobile-enabled, cloud-based platform that party leaders say will allow for accurate, efficient and secure reporting on caucus night. The leaders of each state party came together for a rare joint news conference in downtown Des Moines to show their solidarity in making sure Iowa remains first and in promising there would be no major issues in counting and reporting 2016 results.
"We must ensure that precincts in all parts of the state can quickly and accurately provide caucus results," said Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa. "It is important that we have a caucus reporting system that is using the very latest and the very best technology to provide accurate and quick results."
In the past, an automated telephone system was used to file results from each of the state's more than 1,700 precincts.
"Iowans and the rest of America will get exactly what we all expect: timely and accurate results backed up by one of the top software companies in the world," said Andy McGuire, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party. "I can promise you we will test and retest and retest the technology until we're completely confident it's secure and capable," she said.
The new reporting system will feature separate applications for each party's unique caucus process that will enable precincts to securely submit results directly to their headquarters in Des Moines. The information will be stored and managed in Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform.
In addition to mobile reporting applications, each party will have a separate results verification app that will allow headquarters staff to monitor incoming results. Anomalies and potential problem areas will be automatically highlighted, and party officials say they'll be able to quickly connect with precinct chairs if issues arise.
The general public will also be able to follow caucus night results on a new website where they'll be able to interact with a map to discover results and information for each precinct in all 99 counties.
In 2012, Republican state party leaders initially declared former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney the winner over Rick Santorum, by eight votes. Then, more than two weeks later they said final returns showed the former Pennsylvania senator had won by 34 votes.
Santorum, who is running again this election cycle, often points to his being initially slighted in the count, hurting his potential momentum, as he travels in Iowa and elsewhere.
"I don't think any of this is being driven by past mistakes," Kaufmann said. "I think this is looking forward and continuing to do everything possible to make sure the rest of the country realizes that we deserve to be first in the nation and stay on top of things."
Despite the growing size of the Republican field, Kaufmann predicted there isn't likely to be another caucus election decided by 34 votes. "That's not apt to repeat itself," he said.