The Democratic Party decided to use an app to track the results of the Iowa caucus, but it didn’t end well. App developer Shadow was given only two months to build the app from start to finish. What were the issues, and what can marketers take away from their mistake?

Plagued by problems

Many had difficulty downloading the app, mainly because Shadow did not make it available in the Apple or Google app stores. It is likely that its quick development prevented the app from having enough time to go through the review process. This made the app difficult to find, and users were forced to “sideload” the app (i.e. download it through channels other than the app store.)

Once running, the app crashed for many users, appearing to have been coded by amateurs. Many precinct captains had to call in results, overloading phone lines and resulting in absolute chaos.

Previous App Success

Here’s the kicker – the Democrat and Republican parties used an app in the 2016 primaries without a problem. But you probably never heard about it – because it worked. Partnering with Microsoft and an experienced app developer, InterKnowlogy, they created an app over the course of a year. The app had three months of testing alone – a period longer than the complete duration of the 2020 app development.

Michael Gramley, a software engineer who worked on InterKnowlogy’s app, told Recode:

To me, as an engineer, that just sounds nuts. You cannot make a stable platform in two months. We needed that much time just to test everything. If they really did that, then whoever the management was in that company set their engineers up to fail.

Underfunded Project

Shadow also was paid pennies in terms of the scale of the project. Federal Election Commission records show that Shadow received $63,183 from the Iowa Democratic Party for developing the app, while the development of the Interknowlogy app cost at least ten times that amount.

The Iowa Democratic Party has not explained why the 2016 app was not used.

The Nevada caucus was planning to use the same app to tally results – which has officials scrambling to come up with a better solution.


The faulty Iowa app demonstrates the importance of not cutting corners. When developing an app, constructing a website, or planning new content, it is vital to plan ahead and test thoroughly. Additionally, when executing a large-scale vision, it is important that your desires and your budget align. Otherwise, you may get a product of insufficient quality. Mostly importantly, if something works the first time, there may not be a need to start from scratch. Instead, start with the model that has a proven track record.