ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:
The name for Project ORCA, the Romney campaign’s much-vaunted, digital voter turnout and poll monitoring system, started out as something of a joke.
ORCA was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder to an advanced data-gathering effort put together by the Obama campaign called Project Narwhal. The Romney team’s conceit: An orca is a natural predator of the narwhal, a tusked-whale that lives in the Arctic.
But to many who used ORCA, the problems with the system were no laughing matter.
John Ekdahl, a web developer and blogger who signed up to be a Project ORCA volunteer, described problems with his experience from the beginning – starting with the fact that he did not receive his 60-page instructional manual until the night before Election Day and was never told he needed to pick up a “poll watcher certificate” from a GOP Victory office.
“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.,” said Ekdahl, who took to Twitter and the blog, Ace of Spades, to vent his concerns.
Another blogger with the screen name “Fat Dave,” called his experience “a failure and an embarrassment. And I sensed it the night before the election, when I called the 800 number for our final conference call and got a busy signal.”
In an interview with ABC News on Friday, the Romney campaign’s digital director Zac Moffatt responded to the critical online commentaries.
“Was it flawless? No,” Moffatt said. “Without a doubt, ORCA had its challenges.”
He acknowledged that technical issues began early and continued sporadically throughout the day. The system crashed entirely for about 90-minutes in the late morning on Tuesday — a problem the campaign attributed to an overload of the data servers in the TD Garden in Boston, the site of the campaign’s Election Day “war room.”
“So much data was coming in, the system thought it was under attack,” a campaign official said.
After going dark for an hour-and-a-half, ORCA re-booted and the campaign says it did deliver information to the legions of war room volunteers, headed by Romney campaign political director Rich Beeson. By the end of the night, according to the Romney campaign:
–91 percent of all counties that they decided to track reported data into the system
–14.3 million voters were identified and counted as having voting
–5,397 incidents of ballot box issues (none of them major) were identified that allowed the campaign’s legal team to respond in real time
“You can’t have a system that’s not working and still get those numbers,” Moffatt said. Still he said he understood the frustrations of those who had problems using it who expected a presidential campaign to “fire on all cylinders all the time.”
The system had been tested before Election Day — but not extensively. And the campaign did not know how it would interact with the TD Garden’s data infrastructure until Tuesday morning.
However, Moffatt added that had ORCA functioned flawlessly, it still would not have turned Mitt Romney’s loss into a win: “None of us feel this was election determinative,” Moffatt said.
But that’s a far cry from how a background memo from the campaign described ORCA before Tuesday:
“Project ORCA is a massive undertaking – the Republican Party’s newest, unprecedented and most technologically advanced plan to win the 2012 presidential election .. It is estimated that Project ORCA will decipher 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.”
So confident was the Romney campaign in their un-tested system that senior advisers boasted before Election Day that they would be receiving more accurate data than news organizations’ own exit polls.
“We’re going to know more than the exit polls are going to be able to tell us,” Romney campaign communications director Gail Gitcho said in an in interview with PBS on Monday. “At 5 o’clock when the exit polls come out, I doubt we’ll pay attention to it because we will have had much more scientific information.”
And in a conference call with ABC News on election eve, a campaign official put it even more bluntly: “Your numbers don’t matter to us.”
“This has never been done before, so it will be interesting to see how it goes,” Gitcho told PBS’s Margaret Warner. “The Obama campaign likes to brag about their ground operation, but it’s nothing compared to this.”