As Republicans continue to deconstruct the failure of the Romney campaign, volunteers have revealed that there were serious problems with the candidate's whiz-bang tech solution for getting people to the polls. Prior to election Day, Mitt Romney's team was already bragging about Project Orca, a web app that would connect tens of thousands of volunteer poll watchers in the field with the home office in Boston. It was all part of a massive coordination effort to get Republicans out of the house and into the voting booth.
Poll watching is a time-honored tradition in politics, where volunteers from each campaign literally stand at poll stations with lists of registered supporters and check off the names of people as they come into vote. As the day goes on, they can see who hasn't voted yet and then other volunteers can give them a call or physically go find them and bring them to the polls. Normally, that's done with simple paper and pencils, but Orca was designed to digitize and streamline the process, while also centralizing the effort with headquarters, allowing campaign leaders to re-direct resources on the fly to the areas they were needed most.
On the day after the election, complaints started pouring in from the volunteers themselves indicating that not only did Project Orca not improve the process, it may have actually hindered it. John Ekdahl, a volunteer who writes at Ace Of Spades HQ, outlined the various glitches and breakdowns of the system. Instead of handing out voter lists at local offices, volunteers were emailed 60+ page PDF files and told to print them out at home the night before the election. They weren't given official poll watcher certificates or told that those were required to enter most polling places. The "app" wasn't really an app at all, it was a secure website, creating confusion for volunteers trying to find it in the iTunes store. It also didn't auto-forward users who didn't know to add an S to the http:// protocol in the app's URL (which most browsers don't ask you to type anymore), leaving numerous user lost on a broken webpage.
Volunteers in other parts of the country shared similar complaints. The emailed packets came late or not at all. PINs that were required to login and download the voter lists didn't work and couldn't be reset. Calls and emails to the help desk went unanswered, and the entire system may have just completely crashed in the middle of election day. Frustrated volunteers struggled to get answers that never came, leaving most of them to fend for themselves or simply give up, wasting an entire day without bringing a single new voter to the voting booth.
The whole thing is vaguely reminiscent of the droid army in Star Wars: Episode I (or The Avengers if Marvel is more your thing) in which a fearsome hyper-coordinated fighting force is controlled from afar by a centralized brain trust ... that gets blown up by a little kid in a toy plane. It's also left a lot of GOP volunteers wondering if the Romney campaign, in an effort to micromanage the all-important ground game, may cost itself the election. By pushing Orca into the most important swing states they drew resources away from more battle-tested methods and left local campaign offices flying blind. No wants to admit that the plan built to put the Romney campaign over the top may have actually led to its demise, but it's hard to ignore the damage done by the broken project. Briebart.com can do the math:
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.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.