Beached Orca Project Couldn’t Save the Romney Campaign

BY Margaret Warner  November 9, 2012 at 6:56 PM EDT

Huge Turnout in Arapahoe CountyVoters in Arapahoe County, Colo., line up on Election Day. According to reports, the Romney campaign’s massive get-out-the-vote effort known as “Project Orca” failed to reach its potential. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post.

Remember Project Orca? On Monday we reported on the Romney campaign’s massive high-tech get-out-the-vote plan after visiting its Election Day headquarters in Boston. The secret weapon utilized some 34,000 volunteers armed with mobile apps to identify which of their committed supporters had voted — and then corral those who hadn’t — in key battleground states.

But it turns out — according to conservative bloggers and some volunteers — the ambitious plan didn’t live up to its billing. In fact far from it.

Romney Communications Director Gail Gitcho on Monday described the undertaking with great excitement.

“This has never been done before. So it’ll be interesting to see, it’s kind of a brand new model. The Obama campaign likes to brag about their ground operation, but it’s nothing compared to this,” she said.

Watch the full interview below.

Quite a different picture has been painted since Tuesday by the likes of conservative columnist Byron York and the Breitbart.com website, which said “Romney’s massive technology effort … failed completely”

One volunteer penned an angry blog, describing his frustrations over everything from inadequate training of the volunteers to myriad problems with the much-touted “app” itself.

“The end result was that 30,000-plus of the most active and fired-up volunteers were wandering around confused and frustrated when they could have been doing anything else to help,” John Ekdahl wrote Thursday on the conservative website Ace of Spades.

When we reached Ekdahl, a web developer in Florida, today he explained: “The reason I decided to write [my account] is just because as I spoke to a lot of people I saw that they were having a lot of similar issues. And [I'm] just furious because I was set up to work the polls for over 12 hours that day and because of the circumstances of how they rolled this project out I couldn’t even do the job.”

Zac Moffat, the Romney campaign’s digital director (who was not in charge of the project) told me today that the Orca system went down late Tuesday morning.

“There was a technical glitch in late morning, when the technology infrastructure thought all that data coming in was some kind of cyber attack. So it took the system off line for 90 minutes,” he said. “Volunteers thought it was down. A lot of the frustration came from that.”

But after it went back online, he said, “You just have to look at the end result. Ultimately 91 percent of our counties in target states reported in. We had 14.3 million people tagged in the system as having voted.”

Moffat also disputed the criticism that the 34,000 volunteers could have been put to better use on traditional get-out-the-vote efforts, saying, “We do not feel that because of the problems that occurred with this, if we’d used the resources differently, it would have changed the outcome of the election.”