Updated at 10:58 p.m. ET on February 4, 2020.
It’s all fun and games until someone’s app messes up the Democratic Iowa caucus.
Before yesterday’s debacle, “Shadow” was merely a playful name. A small team of political technologists had given it to their company when it launched early last year, largely as a reference to their primary product: Lightrail, which is supposed to make moving data among different campaign tools easier. Light and Shadow, get it?
That might have been clever in a conference room. But now the name seems sinister. After problems with an app made by Shadow, the Iowa Democratic Party had to postpone announcing the results of yesterday’s caucus, throwing the presidential race into chaos, enraging Democrats and Republicans alike, and birthing a ton of conspiracy theories about hacking and other malicious interventions.
How could this have happened? At this early juncture, the Shadow situation seems like a testament to the faith that people place in technology and political insiders. (The company’s core team, led by CEO Gerard Niemira, is made up of veterans of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency in 2016.) Shadow incorporated only in September, meaning that a crucial piece of the Iowa caucus was in the hands of a company that was technically five months old. Despite serious warnings from experts, Iowa’s Democratic Party handed part of its election infrastructure to a highly networked start-up with a handful of engineers building an entirely untried app. The resulting mess shows the deeply interconnected nature of political operatives and the risks of chasing the newest new thing.