Mitt Romney campaigned for President as a successful businessman who would be a capable manager of government. But the Republican get-out-the-vote effort on election day was crippled by a management fiasco called Project Orca.
Poll watchers of the two political parties maintain “strike lists”—lists of registered voters of their parties, whose names are stricken from the list when they vote, so that party workers can concentrate on getting those who haven’t voted yet to the polls. Project Orca was intended to make this process more efficient by digitizing it.
A Romney campaign worker named John Ekdahl described the fiasco on his blog.
On one of the last conference calls (I believe it was on Saturday night), they told us that our packets would be arriving shortly. Now, there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion about what they meant by “packet”. Some people on Twitter were wondering if that meant a packet in the mail or a pdf or what. Finally, my packet arrived at 4PM on Monday afternoon as an emailed 60 page pdf. Nothing came in the mail. Because I was out most of the day, I only got around to seeing it at around 10PM Monday night. So, I sat down and cursed as I would have to print out 60+ pages of instructions and voter rolls on my home printer. Naturally, for reasons I can’t begin to comprehend, my printer would not print in black and white with an empty magenta cartridge (No HP, I will never buy another one of your products ever again). So, at this point I became panicked. I was expected to be at the polls at 6:45AM and nothing was open. I was thankfully able to find a Kinko’s open until 11PM that was able to print it out and bind it for me, but this is not something I should have had to do. They expected 75-80 year old veteran volunteers to print out 60+ pages on their home computers? The night before election day? From what I hear, other people had similar experiences. In fact, many volunteers never received their packets at all.
At 6:30AM on Tuesday, I went to the polls. I was immediately turned away because I didn’t have my poll watcher certificate. Many, many people had this problem. The impression I got was this was taken care of because they had “registered me”. Others were as well. But apparently, I was supposed to go on my own to a Victory Center to pick it up, but that was never communicated properly. Outside of the technical problems, this was the single biggest failure of the operation. They simply didn’t inform people that this was a requirement
Things got worse.
So, I headed back home to see if I could get my certificate. I called their official help line. It went unanswered. I tried their legal line. Same thing. I emailed them. No response. I continued to do this for six straight hours and never got a response. I even tried to call three local victory centers. All went straight to voicemail.
While I was home, I took to Twitter and the web to try to find some answers. From what I saw, these problems were widespread. People had been kicked from poll watching for having no certificate. Others never received their pdf packets. Some were sent the wrong packets from a different area. Some received their packet, but their usernames and passwords didn’t work.
There is a lot more to Ekdahl’s post, but this gives you the general idea.
So, the end result was that 30,000+ of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help. Like driving people to the polls, phone-banking, walking door-to-door, etc. We lost by fairly small margins in Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. If this had worked could it have closed the gap? I sure hope not for my sanity’s sake.
The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of GOTV efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters). Wrap your head around that.
I think Ekdahl is right. The Republicans would have done better if they had concentrated on getting out the Republican vote instead of their counterproductive effort to limit voting by voters from Democrat-leading groups.
But somebody made money out of Project ORCA, and I doubt that person will suffer any bad consequences as a result of the foul-up. This kind of thing goes on in the private sector as well.
Click on The Unmitigated Disaster Known As Project ORCA to read John Ekdahl’s full post.
Click on Trickledown Schadenfreude for more about Romney’s mismanagement of his campaign.
Hat tip to Making Light.
[Update 11/20/12]. Click on Romney’s White Whale: Old Man’s IT and the Election That Got Away for an interesting post about what Romney’s use of information technology revealed about his management philosophy.