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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Killer Whale

One possible explanation for the surprisingly dismal turnout of Republicans this past election,which cost Mitt Romney the presidency, was the mind-numbingly stupid decision of the Romney organization to entrust its get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day to an untested and unworkable high-tech software program called Orca (via Breibart):

Project Orca was supposed to enable poll watchers to record voter names on their smartphones, by listening for names as voters checked in. This would give the campaign real-time turnout data, so they could redirect GOTV resources throughout the day where it was most needed. They recruited 37,000 swing state volunteers for this. 

 It didn't work.

I worked on the Colorado team, and we were called by hundreds (or more) volunteers who couldn't use the app or the backup phone system. The usernames and passwords were wrong, but the reset password tool didn't work, and we couldn't change phone PINs. We were told the problems were limited and asked to project confidence, have people use pencil and paper, and try to submit again later. 

 And chaos ensued.

By 2PM, I had completely given up. I finally got ahold of someone at around 1PM and I never heard back. From what I understand, the entire system crashed at around 4PM. I'm not sure if that's true, but it wouldn't surprise me. I decided to wait for my wife to get home from work to vote, which meant going very late (around 6:15PM). Here's the kicker, I never got a call to go out and vote. So, who the hell knows if that end of it was working either. And so went the election: In fact, Orca diverted scarce resources that would have been better used physically moving voters to polling places. By a rough calculation, Romney lost the election by falling 500,000 to 700,000 votes short in key swing states. If each of the 37,000 volunteers that had been devoted to Orca had instead brought 20 voters to the polls in those states over the course of the day, Romney would have won the election. 

 All of which should serve as caution to never, ever, ever let naive, if well-meaning, geeks persuade you the high-tech solution is always best. Even the Obama campaign, to its credit and despite its crowing about their technical savvy, relied on good old-fashioned feet-on-the-ground for its voter turnout efforts; and as anyone who works in show-biz will tell you, the tech-rehearsal is as vital as the cast rehearsal.

The Republicans will have four years to mull over this fiasco.

Before the election, there was much fear-mongering on the Democratic side about the Republicans’ supposed plans to suppress turnout among Obama voters. After the election, GOP strategist Karl Rove accused the Obama campaign of “suppressing the vote” by running a negative campaign against Romney that kept voters at home.
The truth is much worse. There was, in fact, massive suppression of the Republican vote--by the Romney campaign, through the diversion of nearly 40,000 volunteers to a failing computer program. 
There was no Plan B; there was only confusion, and silence.