Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

The GOP’s Broken Machine

- Abstract

It was just past dawn on Election Day, and already the whale was dead in the water. Project Orca, the not-so-secret high-tech weapon of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, was drowning in the deluge of thousands of attempted log-ins from volunteers across the country. The program was designed to be a 21st-century update to old-school poll watching, driven by more than 30,000 smartphone-equipped volunteers. The digital equivalent of scratching thousands of voters’ names off of a gigantic list, Orca was intended to give the Romney campaign staff up-to-the-minute insight into who had and hadn’t made it to the polls, allowing them to target their robocalling more precisely and avoid pestering those who had already voted. Instead, Orca became one last failure from a campaign that never managed to get the little things right because it couldn’t get the biggest thing right.

Orca was a near-total operational failure. The program had been kept under wraps to its detriment, never fully stress-tested for the crunch of Election Day traffic. Volunteers who had tuned in to cheerleading conference calls with campaign staff never received their information packets on how to use it, and simple coding failures meant many people couldn’t access the application at all. Calls to the relevant help lines went unanswered. And the checklist given to volunteers had somehow failed to remind them to bring the credentials they needed to monitor the polls legally, though it did tell them, twice, to bring a chair.

About the Author

Benjamin Domenech is a research fellow at the Heartland Institute and editor of the Transom.