Shadow's Cancelled Nevada Caucus App Had Errors, Too

An error wouldn’t let users report results in a test version of the app. Shadow confirmed it was fixing some errors at the time.
February 7, 2020, 2:41pm
GettyImages-1143907148 (1)

As the app used to report caucus results in Iowa failed, volunteers for the Nevada State Democratic Party encountered errors while testing their own version of the app made by the same company, Motherboard has learned. Once a test version of the app was distributed, volunteers were quickly met with an error when trying to submit caucus results, according to a source and a review of the app by Motherboard. Volunteers encountered the error when they received the app earlier this month and up until this week, according to the source. The Nevada caucus is scheduled for February 22.

Nevada Democrats have already said they will not use the app after a failure with the Iowa app spread chaos and confusion in this week's caucus. But the news shows the continued risk of using apps and internet connected technology to report early results in elections, and highlights again how the company behind both the Iowa and Nevada apps, called Shadow Inc., developed a product that potentially had issues. The app was never designed to tabulate final vote counts that officially determine the winner, but instead is used to give early vote totals for real-time reporting.

After logging into the app, users were presented with a dashboard letting them submit how many caucus attendees they wished to add for each candidate, according to the app. A pop-up then asked, "Are you sure you want to submit the first alignment? Please ensure all in-person participant counts are correct before confirming."

But submitting the counts for the first alignment did not work, according to a source. Motherboard granted the source anonymity to speak candidly about a technical issue.

"Error," a second pop-up reads. "Could not submit alignment."

1581082190585-nv-dems-app

The error message doesn't make clear why it occurred, whether that functionality was supposed to exist yet, or if it was due to user error.

A Shadow spokesperson told Motherboard that "Because the deadline for the Nevada app was later, Shadow’s Nevada app was still in beta testing, and that testing identified some errors that were being fixed." They also said that the app was on track for a "successful rollout" with the Nevada Democratic Party.

1581089300099-undefined

"There was a new release ready to test in Nevada following the Iowa caucuses. That version wasn’t ready for use and has not been, and will not be released," they added.

The Nevada State Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment.

Any results generated by the app would have been verified with other records as they were with Iowa.

Know anything more about the Shadow app or other apps being used in elections? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on jfcox@jabber.ccc.de, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

This week multiple users of the Iowa app reported the app failing, delaying the public reporting of the Iowa caucus results. Shadow's CEO Gerard Niemira previously told Motherboard the issue was due to a data formatting error when transferring data from the app into a verification system controlled by the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP).

Motherboard obtained a copy of the Android version of the app and provided it to multiple Android and security experts. The consensus was that Shadow had rushed the app, and that it was rudimentary in design. Motherboard also publicly released a copy of the Android APK.

Emanuel Maiberg contributed reporting.

Subscribe to our cybersecurity podcast, CYBER.