The Iowa caucuses are an important step in the presidential nomination process. In Iowa, there are more than 1,700 precincts, which could range from hundreds of voters to just a few. During the last caucus, in 2012, turnout was extremely low, with only 5.4 percent of eligible voters actually participating. Although that resulted in just over 147,000 Iowans voting for their preferred presidential candidate, every single ballot cast at the Iowa caucuses matters. However, sometimes these voters' ballots take a long time to get from their precinct's polling place to their party's headquarters. This year, in an effort to streamline getting the results from the precincts to the headquarters, and finally to the public, Microsoft created a special caucus technology using its Azure cloud system.
The Republican party experienced a significant controversy in 2012. The preliminary results had Mitt Romney beat Rick Santorum, but Santorum actually won the caucuses. It turned out that these initial results were missing ballots from eight precincts, which could account for hundreds, maybe even thousands of voters. Typically, results from the Iowa caucuses are released in real time, but that's clearly not a solid strategy when you're missing multiple precincts' data. The problem is that many of the precincts are miles away from the Republican and Democratic party headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. Geographical boundaries affect the timing of when the results are announced, because a representative from each precinct has to deliver their precinct's election results to HQ.
Microsoft's new technology will incorporate mobile, cloud-based access to the precincts during the caucuses. This way, Microsoft ensures accuracy and efficiency in reporting the results to the headquarters. On its official blog, Microsoft writes:
Built on Microsoft technology, the new platform will feature a secure system, which will enable precincts to report their results directly by party and will ensure that only authorized Iowans are reporting results. This announcement represents the first-of-its-kind major technology component to caucus reporting.
The new platform will be available for both Democratic and Republican parties during the caucuses. Because each party has a unique voting process in the caucuses, it is imperative that this technology supports both ways of casting votes. Microsoft has seemingly prepared for this by making it accessible on different devices, and in every precinct, writing on its blog:
Under the new system, each Iowa political party will have their own app available on all mobile and PC platforms, which will support the party’s unique caucus voting process. The reporting apps may be used in every precinct in Iowa by both parties. The results will be securely stored and managed in Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform.
By using a new, cloud-based app to send results from the Iowa caucuses, voters and candidates alike will have the accurate, real-time access to election results that they deserve. If all goes to plan and the Microsoft Azure cloud can safely and quickly report the results to the public, then you should expect to see which candidates come out on top by the end of the night on Monday, Feb. 1.
Here's a video from Microsoft further explaining how they will change the status quo of voting at the Iowa caucuses this year: