Project ORCA dies on the beach
The Romney campaign’s electronic get-out-the-vote effort for 2012 was called “Project ORCA.” It was supposed to be a super high-tech way of getting Republican voters off their tushes and out to the polls. It was, as participant John Ekdahl writes at Ace of Spades in a landmark expose, a staggering failure, as evidenced by the astonishingly poor turnout that doomed the Romney campaign.
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.
Ekdahl notes that a checklist of seven vital “Do Not Forget” items sent out to 30,000 volunteers was somehow printed incorrectly, reminding them to bring a chair twice instead of the absolutely indispensable poll watcher certificate. Another rookie mistake, which the most elementary programming expertise would have avoided, was the failure to forward “http” requests automatically to the secure “https” Project ORCA website. If you forgot to type “https,” you got nowhere, and many volunteers apparently took this to mean the website was unavailable on Election Day.
This left over thirty thousand volunteers under-utilized, while the Obama campaign was hauling truckloads of voters to the polls. Get-out-the-vote efforts are vital; if the campaigns didn’t drag people to the polls, our already poor voter turnout would be even lower than it is. And the old-fashioned decentralized elbow-grease methods of handling such operations worked far better than the Romney team’s flashy but crippled centrally organized electronic system. Did this loss come as such a surprise to so many on the campaign team because no one anticipated such a catastrophic failure?