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Dems' iPhone App Now Equips Field Organizers with Canvassing Tools

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, September 2 2010

There are a pair of painful images seared into my memory from my past political life, when I would here and there do field work on campaigns. One is of an organizer in (coincidentially) Wasilla, Alaska, hunched over a huge stack of papers late into the night, "cutting turf," or dividing up the lists of voter names and addresses into sections for door-to-door canvassers to use in the morning. Covered in beard stubble, his eyes ringed by red, clutching an orange highlighter, this field organizer looked underfed, exhausted, and in some amount of physical pain. The other is from Davenport, Iowa. Waves of eager volunteers came back to the campaign's downtown headquarters, clutching in their hands the walk lists that they had carefully annotated with what they had learned from voters by going house-by-house on that inhumanly frigid winter day. "Just drop 'em in that box," said the field organizer in charge. He knew, I knew, the tired volunteers knew that that box was never going to be used for anything other than a paper receptacle.

Some much wasted time, wasted energy, wasted passion, and wasted knowledge. In the 21st century, with all our mobile phones and digital gadgets, it's almost criminal. Huge improvements have been made in field organizing in the years since, but those mental pictures of misused human capital have stuck in my brain. I'm always on the lookout for signs that the American political animal, of any political stripe, is getting smarter, more efficient at managing the information flow that is the lifeblood of political campaigns.

Which is a long lead-in to the the news that Organizing for America, the outgrowth of the 2008 Obama presidential campaign now housed in the Democratic National Committee, has just announced that a mid-term upgrade of its iPhone app now includes a suite of canvassings tools. It's too late for that long-ago ground-down volunteer in Wasilla and those mispent volunteers in Davenport, but there is, perhaps, hope yet for those who will come after them.

OFA's updated iPhone app equips Democratic canvassers to quickly pull up data on voters in their turf (including maps to where they live), find literature that can be passed onto interested contacts, and, important, keep track of what field organizers are learning from their time spent going after voters. Check out the video above for more. For more, give a watch to the 40-second video OFA has put together on the new app.