As the first votes of the 2016 presidential primary season are cast at the Iowa caucuses tonight, new Microsoft technology will be used to give up-to-the-minute updates as the results come in. Local officials from both the Democratic and Republican parties will use their own versions of the Microsoft apps to report vote tallies in a bid to improve speed and accuracy in caucus reporting.
"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," Dan'l Lewin, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President of Technology and Civic Engagement, wrote in a company blog post. "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."
Microsoft's new apps come four years after vote-counting problems bedeviled the Iowa Republican caucus. In the 2012 race, Mitt Romney appeared to be the Iowa winner for weeks, by a margin of just 8 votes, only for the final tally to show a narrow victory for Rick Santorum instead.
More than a year ago, Microsoft reached out to the state's parties about getting involved in the caucuses to help prevent such errors from recurring.
The new Microsoft apps replaced a touch-tone phone reporting system which party officials admitted was vulnerable to errors.
The state Republican party announced last week that a test run confirmed the new system is working and ready to go.
The Microsoft apps will help nearly 1,700 Iowa precincts report their vote counts through a simple smartphone interface. A number of security measures are built in to make sure only authorized users can report their precinct results, and the software will help make sure the numbers add up properly and any anomalies are spotted.
Of course, not everyone is totally comfortable with Microsoft's involvement in the political process. The campaign of Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has expressed skepticism about the company's motives and whether it can be trusted to remain impartial.
"You'd have to ask yourself why they'd want to give something like that away for free," Sanders campaign coordinator Pete D'Alessandro told MSNBC.
But Microsoft and party leaders reassured the public that this app-based system is secure and without bias.
"No matter where you live in Iowa, the reporting app will provide secure, efficient, and accurate results for the First-in-the-Nation Iowa caucuses. Iowa Democrats are proud to partner with the Republican Party of Iowa and Microsoft on this exciting advancement that once again puts Iowa at the forefront of politics and technology," Iowa Democratic Party Chair Dr. Andy McGuire said when the plan was first unveiled.
"We look forward to working with the citizens and political parties in the state of Iowa and applying Microsoft expertise in technology, data, and business intelligence to help make the caucus reporting efficient, accurate, and secure," Microsoft's Lewin said.