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As conservatives search for an explanation for Mitt Romney’s loss, much of the blame has been directed at the collapse of his campaign’s Election Day get out the vote efforts, a massive organizational failure that resulted in lower Republican turnout than even John McCain got in 2008. A major source of Romney’s GOTV problems appears to have been the disastrous Project ORCA, an expensive technological undertaking that was supposed to provide the campaign with real-time poll monitoring that would allow Republicans to target GOTV efforts on Election Day.
In the week leading up to the election, Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul told Business Insider that ORCA was “the Republican Party’s newest, most technologically advanced plan to win the 2012 election,” touting it as the game-changer that would blow even the Obama campaign’s sophisticated GOTV system out of the water.
But on almost all counts, ORCA failed miserably. In a fascinating piece for Ace of Spades, Romney poll-watcher John Ekdahl describes a perfect storm of technology problems that made the ORCA app unusable and left scores of Republican volunteers “wandering around confused and frustrated” on Election Day.
Worse still, Ekdahl told Business Insider that the Romney campaign failed to provide poll-watching volunteers in his region — Jacksonville, Florida, a key Republican city in a major swing state — with proper credentials and accurate voter strike lists, rendering them unable to perform their duties even if the ORCA app had worked.
In interviews with Business Insider last week, sources close to the Romney campaign confirmed Ekdahl’s account, and described a technological undertaking that failed at every level. According to several of these sources, ORCA was developed by a small, isolated tech team working under Romney’s political team. These sources told Business Insider that the product was never properly beta-tested, and wasn’t revealed to the rest of the campaign — including the digital team — until the week of the election.
Most people on the campaign “weren’t that surprised” by ORCA’s failure, said one Republican communications strategist close to the Romney campaign.
“They wouldn’t let anyone outside of Romney political circle in on it until basically November 6,” the strategist said. “The digital strategy was so incomprehensible — they were playing Super Nintendo while Obama’s people had PS3.”
“Their priorities were so screwed up — [they were] hypersensitive about information security, but also wanted to use the best technology they could,” the strategist continued. “In the end they got neither. They put out a laughable GOTV product.”
And the Romney campaign’s Election Day problems weren’t limited to ORCA.
Another Republican activist, an attorney in Hamilton County, Ohio who declined to be named for fear of “burning bridges,” told Business Insider that the campaign’s GOTV organisation in that crucial swing county completely collapsed in the weeks leading up to the election.
In an interview last week, the attorney, one of the “Lawyers for Romney” who volunteered to help the campaign’s legal team by watching the polls on Election Day, described how the Romney campaign sent its legal volunteers the wrong training information, failed to provide volunteers with information about where they were supposed to be on Election Day, and stopped responding to phone calls and emails in the final two weeks of the campaign.
“It was basically a disaster,” the attorney said. “They never explained what we were supposed to be doing — where we were supposed to start, where we were supposed to end, what I was supposed to do at the end of the night — they didn’t explain any of it….A month before, you couldn’t get a phone call or an email answered.”
“Four out of eight of my polling places didn’t have a poll observer,” the attorney continued. “How you don’t even get people credentialed properly is beyond my comprehension.”
The Romney campaign did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on the campaign’s Election Day issues.
While we may never know what really happened inside the Romney campaign’s Election Day collapse, the Ohio attorney’s story, taken with the accounts from Ekdahl and people close to the Romney campaign, paint a picture of a campaign in disarray.
It appears that in its singular focus on competing technologically with the Obama campaign, the Romney team neglected to adequately account for and organise the essential human element necessary to any grassroots undertaking. Thus when its technological efforts failed, the campaign was left without a Plan B, and its volunteers were forced to fly blind at the moment the campaign needed them most.
“I think sometimes people get enamoured of technology and they take people out of the mixture because its easier,” Republican strategist Dave Carney told Business Insider. “I think there’ll be a lot of soul-searching and review of those processes and see what really makes a difference.”
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