Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Before the election, I had wondered why the Romney hadn't spent its pots of money (or that of its allies) developing a Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign to rival the Democrats'. They needed *something* to overpower the Dems' advantage in volunteers; I figured they would just hire 100,000 temps or something, but the truth is even more hilariously stupid.
Team Romney did something that, on paper, would match or beat Obama's GOTV program, but failed, epic-ly for reasons that are obvious to anyone whose written application software in a corporate environment, and to most readers of Dilbert.
"Users had no hands-on with the Orca application itself, which wasn't turned on until 6:00 AM on Election Day."
Some background: GOTV is a mission critical function to in political campaigns; it doesn't help to have more votes on your side if your opponents get all of theirs to the polls, while yours sit home. Classic GOTV efforts send volunteers to each key precincts on voting day, where they record who has voted and then go back to a local office to note those who haven't; the local organization then contacts the non-voters known to be on their side and encourage them to vote. It's simple and effective, although labor intensive.
Recent campaigns have juiced up the effort with technology. The Obama campaign's NARWHALE system set a standard which the Romney team intended to beat with a system they called ORCA (...cuz orcas eat narwhales. Get it?) As I deconstruct the logic from published reports, it appears that volunteers would use a smartphone app to send their reports to a central location, which would dispatch GOTV nationwide; thus if there were a shortage of voters in Ohio but a surplus of callers in Texas, one could be matched to the other efficiently. Plus volunteers would spend more time working at the polls, less time driving reports back to local HQ.
This is not a bad idea.
Indeed, it is a good idea.
There is no idea so good that it can't be screwed up with bad implementation!

 "Inside Team Romney's whale of an IT meltdown" recounts a classic tale of a top-down IT project gone wrong, so very wrong in ways predictable by ANY DILBERT but by NO POINTY-HAIRED BOSS; as a symbol of Team Romney's approach to governance it is most appropriate that it doomed the political campaign. And its utter failure the first time it was tested may explain Karl Rove's surprise on election day; no doubt he was assured that the system would work and he lacks the practice IT experience to realize that mission-critical systems NEVER WORK if they aren't exposed to end-users before they go live.
Ah Justice!
Among the reported problems:
  • Most volunteers' got invalid passwords
  • The App wasn't really an app; volunteers wasted time looking for it in the iPhone and Android store, when it was really a web app, located on a web page
  • Looking for the app/web-app was a waste of time anyway because it wasn't available until election day anyway!
  • PDF'd voter lists. On the surface, emailing PDFs of voter lists sounds like a good idea. However, it is a stupid idea. There is a place for paper even in this modern world, and at this moment in time, checking lists at the polls is one of them. Maybe next election, searching a PDF on a cellphone will be fast and easy, but not today. Mailing PDFs meant that volunteers had to burn a cartridge printing 70 pages; the central organization should've spent a few hundred thousand bucks doing it centrally and priority mailing it.
  • Oh heck, go read the article; it's really funny!
As one Romney volunteer put it:
"...The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of [get out the vote] efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters). Wrap your head around that."

This is a comforting story for America's rightwing, since it can tell itself that it would have one the election but for a software problem. See, for example, the odious Brietbart's site "EXCLUSIVE - INSIDE ORCA: HOW THE ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SUPPRESSED ITS OWN VOTE" . They also had a slight problem in hiring crooks to manage voter registration efforts.
Certainly liberals should not count on this problem reoccurring, but can take some comfort in the way it happened: the same arrogance and disdain that the rightwing shows for ordinary people doomed their Orca system to hilarious failure.

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