The story at the right is from a blog article by a writer named John Ekdahl who evidently provided a first-person account of having been one of the Romney volunteer brought in to use the system:
From the very start there were warning signs. After signing up, you were invited to take part in nightly conference calls. The calls were more of the slick marketing speech type than helpful training sessions. There was a lot of "rah-rahs" and lofty talk about how this would change the ballgame.
Working primarily as a web developer, I had some serious questions. Things like "Has this been stress tested?", "Is there redundancy in place?" and "What steps have been taken to combat a coordinated DDOS attack or the like?", among others. These types of questions were brushed aside (truth be told, they never took one of my questions). They assured us that the system had been relentlessly tested and would be a tremendous success.
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.
A CNET article described how the system was supposed to work:
Here's how Orca was supposed to work. On election day, the Romney campaign would deploy 34,000 volunteers with an Orca mobile web app in swing states to monitor turnout. In Boston Garden (now called TD Garden), 800 staffers would direct get-out-the-vote efforts in key precincts based on incoming data from volunteers on the ground and other sources.
The Romney campaign further described what Orca would do on Election Day:
The general idea is to conduct the world's largest exit poll. Through Project ORCA, at any given moment we will know the current ballot in every State, DMA & County.... For example: if we happen to be down in a state at lunch time, we can pinpoint exactly what is causing it. So, if we know we're going to win X state by 3 points, let's move our resources to Y state, county. In sum, Project ORCA will give us an enormous advantage by being able to know the current result of a state.
It is estimated that Project ORCA will decipher [how] 18 to 23 million people have voted by the time all voting has concluded. This massive "sample size" not only ensure the most accurate ballot projections ever, but it will also ensure hyper-accuracy of our supporter targeting as we work to turn them out to the polls.
"We are going to know more than the exit polls will be able tell us because we will know who voted in which precinct, and based on micro-targeting we know who that person likes"…
The Romney campaign described purpose of this the effort: “based on the data, the Romney campaign could take action to boost voter participation. "If we know that there is a low turnout in one of our target precincts, then we can lob phones into them...we'll send a robocall, or whatever, or our state offices will have volunteers to pick up the phone and say, 'Have you voted yet, go to precinct here.'"
This effort was supposed to be the technological foundation an advanced “get-out-the-vote” effort the campaign would be running in the swing states.
However, as it turns out, the data collection effort failed on a broad scale. “There were reports that the Orca app crashed on Election Day, and wasn't beta-tested sufficiently”, CNET said.
The collapse of the ORCA platform is all the more astonishing because of how aggressively the Romney campaign hyped it in advance of Nov. 6.
Centinello was quoted in The Huffington Post on Nov. 1 touting ORCA to volunteers in these grandiose terms: “There’s nothing that the Obama data team, there’s nothing that the Obama campaign, there’s nothing that President Obama himself can do to even come close to what we are putting together here.”
But for operatives within the Romney orbit, there was reason for skepticism even before the system went down on Election Day. Strategists in the states never got a chance to test-drive ORCA, which would have left them unfamiliar with the software on Tuesday even if it had worked.
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.
Another blogger described the Obama “get-out-the-vote” effort:
Obama entirely relied on his people. There’s a reason they call it “thick as thieves.” I know many are trying to harpoon that white whale that ended everything, but we have to ask a different question. If a winner lost, how did a loser win?
Votermom looks at the real ground game of the Obama campaign. The reason Chicago politics work is not only because of the illegality, it also relies on the tireless efforts of cronies to harass and threaten voters. Pat Caddell’s much envied Obama “data mining” operation seemed to consist of lists of registered voters who had not requested an absentee ballot or early voted. The campaign then paid people to call them daily until they either got a ballot or voted. I guess we know where that 7.8% unemployment figure came from.
Of course, the harassment was also personal and constant to certain persuadable groups like union workers and the inner cities. The county political identification maps are nice for a Republican to look at because they are vastly red. The downfall is that people in Democrat counties are packed like rats. A GOTV operation can hit thousands of people with just a busload of volunteers.
It seems to me that, at least at one level, the failure is pretty clear. The Romney campaign put a lot of its eggs into a technological basket that seems to have had a hole in it.