Iowa Caucus Time: November 5th, 2014.
The day after the “shellacking” of Democrats by Republicans in the midterm elections, I sat down with a friend over lunch, who had been involved in the election. He asked me, what was the next thing Democrats in Iowa need to be worried about?
I told him: Iowa Caucus technology.
He and I had worked together in the 2008 election cycle. Following that campaign, I came back to Des Moines to work for the Iowa Democratic Party where I ended up personally building many of the technology tools for the Democratic caucuses in 2012 (yes, there are caucuses even when there’s not a competitive race for president). After seeing the razor thin race for the GOP candidates in the 2012 caucuses, it drove home for me the glaring oversight both Democrats and Republicans had allowed to persist — inadvertently making vulnerable Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status.
The process of administering the caucuses is done wholly by the state parties and from a technological stand-point they were basically re-inventing the wheel every four years. I believed (and still believe, after this year’s Iowa caucus) that being first in the nation is a privilege and a responsibility, and bringing together both parties to share resources for administering the caucuses is the best way to ensure accuracy and efficiency. Going into 2015, I had decided that pushing for something like this was going to be one of my pet-projects. Who knows how far it would actually get?
So sitting there with my friend, when I told him about the need to pool technological resources for the parties, he didn’t skip a beat when he reminded me that a mutual friend currently worked with Microsoft and had a job title akin to something like, “Campaign Technology Evangelist.” And with that spark, the fire had been lit.
What ensued was a handful of meetings where Republicans and Democrats in Iowa came together with a truly-neutral partner in Microsoft and decided — quite easily, in fact — that the logic for doing this together was better than doing it apart.
Microsoft’s resources, their respected position as a non-partisan global company, their attitude and approach to working with the parties to deliver real solutions — not just sexy ones — all made for the perfect partnership that would not have been possible if any one element was missing. The parties would get the best technology to help them run the caucuses and Microsoft would get the exposure that comes with the caucuses and help position them as problem solvers in the world of political technology. It all clicked, thanks to a whole lot of people smarter than me, frankly, who worked within the parties and Microsoft.
There is, of course, much more to this tale than the 500 words in this blog post, and a great many stories to tell about the days between that first lunch and the historical 2016 Iowa Caucus night in the Microsoft Media Center when I was up until 3:00 a.m., watching results come in on the technology built by Microsoft. I’m glad to have been a part of it all — even if only a small one.
Regardless, it’s safe to say that as I sit here, only a couple weeks after the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, I’m proud to feel I have done well by the state of Iowa, in my own small way.