Romney’s Orca IT System Turns Out as a Whale of a Mistake

The Obama campaign’s ground game for turning out the votes was widely credited for the high turnout of minorities and young people that led to Obama’s victory. Yet right up until Election Day, the Romney campaign was dismissive of the Obama campaign’s structure. Sometimes campaigns are not driven by grand ideas but the simplest of failures. The Romney campaign personified that by falling on its face on Election Day.

Romney campaign Communications Director Gail Gitcho vowed that the Romney campaign was at the edge of making history. Gitcho said that the Orca Project was going to allow an unprecedented peak into Romney supporters. A mobile application in the hands of 37,000 supporters in swing states was so good that it was better than the exit polls. Glitcho boasted that when the polls closed, Orca would be so much more accurate than the exit polls that Romney campaign would ignore them. Gitcho emphasized that Orca would allow the Romney campaign to target voters who laggardly failed to vote. Thus, providing a decisive Election Day get out the vote.

Reality was a bit different, as Arstechnica reviews:

But Orca turned out to be toothless, thanks to a series of deployment blunders and network and system failures. While the system was stress-tested using automated testing tools, users received little or no advance training on the system. Crucially, there was no dry run to test how Orca would perform over the public Internet.

Part of the issue was Orca’s architecture. While 11 backend database servers had been provisioned for the system—probably running on virtual machines—the “mobile” piece of Orca was a Web application supported by a single Web server and a single application server. Rather than a set of servers in the cloud, “I believe all the servers were in Boston at the Garden or a data center nearby,” wrote Hans Dittuobo, a Romney volunteer at Boston Garden, to Ars by e-mail.

Throughout the day, the Orca Web page was repeatedly inaccessible. It remains unclear whether the issue was server load or a lack of available bandwidth, but the result was the same: Orca had not been tested under real-world conditions and repeatedly failed when it was needed the most.

Lacking in training, volunteers received the app with voluminous instructions just days before the election. For some, the passwords didn’t work and couldn’t be reset. Servers crashed and information gathered in the field remained there.

The result left the Romney campaign with limited resources to target voters as the polls drew to a close. A bulk of the 37,000 volunteers in the swing states spent Election Day isolated and irrelevant.

This disorganization plagued the Romney campaign in contrast to Romney’s business background that emphasized his “can do” resume that would put America to work again. In the end, if the Romney campaign had simply followed best IT practices, then there app might have worked. Instead, Orca was less of a killer whale and more of a beached whale floundering purposelessly. It was a wanting end to a campaign that promised efficiency if elected to the Oval Office.

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