The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


Project ORCA - major fizzle

First off, yes, the Mitt Romney campaign Digital Director Zac Moffatt is correct:

"For whatever reasons, the conservative bloggers have latched onto Orca as the reason it all fell apart," Moffatt added. Those bloggers have suggested that developers with Democratic sympathies somehow acted as a fifth column within the Romney camp.
Moffatt said that this kind of thinking puts too much faith in a single piece of software. "Anyone who knows campaigns knows this was all baked in before that day—there was no magic, Orca wasn't a silver bullet,"...

And when we look at the margin of victory that Obama enjoyed, we see that the race wasn't anywhere near close enough for the complete and utter clusterfuck that was the Project Orca to have had any serious effect on the race.

That being said, Project Orca would, in a rational universe where people cared deeply about objective facts, do such enormous damage to Mitt Romney's reputation as a skilled and savvy and smart and organized businessman that no one would miss the would-be Romney presidency for the effect that he would have had on the nation's economy.

As the right-wing blogger Ace of Spades points out, Romney and the Republican Party had 37,000+ ("Ace" initially estimated only 30,000+) volunteer poll-watchers and get-out-the-vote people:

In a final training call on November 3, field volunteers were told to expect "packets" shortly containing the information they needed to use Orca. Those packets, which showed up in some volunteers' e-mail inboxes as late as November 5, turned out to be PDF files—huge PDF files which contained instructions on how to use the app and voter rolls for the voting precincts each volunteer would be working. After discovering the PDFs in his e-mail inbox at 10:00 PM on Election Eve, Ekdahl said that "I sat down and cursed, as I would have to print 60+ pages of instructions and voter rolls on my home printer. They expected 75 to 80-year old veteran volunteers to print out 60+ pages on their home computers? The night before election day?"

Now, this sounds great IF your objective is to save money. Outsourcing production of the voter rolls to individual employees sounds like a great idea IF people are all supplied with corporate-style laser printers that spit out a half-dozen to a dozen pages a minute and to people who have the time and the expertise to absorb a few pages of written technical instructions. Obviously, campaign volunteers are not employees and they don't necessarily have the equipment or training to do these things. The Ars Technica piece concludes that the Romney team essentially did a "beta test" (Sort of a technological "full dress rehearsal," with customers actually getting their hands on the product and testing it in real time with the tools they'd normally use) on November 6th. Problem: November 6th was the drop-dead, must-work-perfectly day when all the bugs had to be ironed out and and all the errors fixed and for all of the system's users to be completely up-to-date with and comfortable with the system. Yes, the Romney team would have had to sacrifice secrecy and shock effect, but they would have had a fully working and functional product and not a complete fizzle of a product launch. Yes, yes, Zac Moffat points out that they did a few things right. I'll give 'em a C- on the whole thing.

What's perhaps the clearest sign of just plain, flat-out incompetence, bordering on malfeasance, is that Comcast, the website provider, was not informed that the project was expecting really massive traffic on November 6th. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) ran into a very similar problem during his 2006 primary campaign against challenger Ned Lamont. His website crashed because it wasn't prepared to be as busy as it was during the last days of the campaign, when the site was flooded with people wanting to cast an informed vote but who hadn't taken the time to do any research beforehand. Romney's contractor or Romney's own people should have known from Lieberman's experience that website providers need to be notified that you have a political site and that you're expecting a really big surge in traffic on election day. There's no guarantee that the website provider would have provided any resources with which to assist the electioneering team, but at least Comcast would not have been under the impression that Romney's site was suffering a denial-of-service attack. They might have even been prepared to assist with computer resources, extra lines of communication or more servers.

So yes, Project Orca was very much of a test of Romney's abilities/capabilities as an executive and yes, he failed that test miserably. The nation lost nothing when it didn't vote him into office.

Ars Technica decided to follow up their look at the failed Mitt Romney product by looking at the successful Barack Obama product. The Obama 2008 campaign software, nicknamed Houdini, was okay. Not great, just okay. It more or less did the job and contributed some to the campaign, but Obama's people understood they'd really have to scale it up for 2012. Some interesting quotes: "Rather than focusing on creating something significantly new, Reed said, the team focused on taking what they already knew worked and fitting the pieces together." and "Dashboard didn't replace real-world field offices; rather, it was designed to overcome the problems posed by the absence of a common tool set in the 2008 election, making it easier for volunteers to be recruited and connected with people in their area." and "...the philosophy of applications like Dashboard and Call Tool was that 'you can't just make a difference through tech alone,' Ecker said. 'You can't just send e-mails and make robocalls and do stuff on Facebook—the real persuasion is going to happen when a real person is talking to a real person.'"

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