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Democrats Hope To Outorganize Republicans In GOTV Smartphone War

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Monday, November 5 2012

As expected, President Obama's campaign will also rely on a smartphone system to enable volunteers to monitor who's showing up at the polls in battleground states.

NGP VAN, the software company that powers the majority of Democratic political campaigns in the United States, announced the existence of the smartphone feature Monday. Stu Trevelyn, NGP VAN's CEO, said that the Obama campaign is using it, just like the majority of other Democratic campaigns up and down the ballot are expected to. (A spokesman for the Obama campaign did not confirm that at the time that this post was published.)

In fact, that's the touted advantage of the system over the system being used by Mitt Romney's campaign.

Instead of just being limited to being used by volunteers watching the polls for the presidential campaign, NGP VAN's smartphone reporting tool is likely to be used by volunteers on a large number of Democratic campaigns from President Obama's re-election effort on down, meaning that there should be more people updating the database of people who have voted. The system is designed to update the central database every time that the end-user enters the names of five additional voters.

The feature enables campaign volunteers with smartphones trained as pollwatchers to log into a mobile-optimized web site, and to check off in near real-time the names of voters who show up at their polling places. But instead of checking off names, the volunteers will be punching in five-digit codes representing the voters. The idea is that monitoring turnout will enable the campaigns to more efficiently manage their GOTV efforts and stop pestering people who have already voted.

Both techPresident and The Huffington Post reported last week on a similar project being undertaken by Mitt Romney's campaign, called Project Orca. Elections experts said that the practice of having campaign poll watchers reporting who voted is nothing new -- it's the smartphone technology that's relatively new. In 2004, the Republican National Committee armed poll watchers with Palm Pilots.

In 2008, the Obama campaign ran a poll-watching project called Project Houdini. Trevelyan said that the system was powered by an interactive voice response system made by another vendor that melted down under the load and was rendered unusable.

An unnamed "Obama official" downplayed the importance of the poll-monitoring system to Slate's Sasha Issenberg last week.

Asked about Romney Deputy Political Director Dan Centinello's statement that "there's nothing that President Obama himself can do to even come close to what we are putting together here," Trevelyan laughed.

"If you just look at the collaborative features of the Obama campaign, versus what the Romney campaign is working on, actually Romney’s campaign is the one that’s way behind here," he said.

Centinello did not respond to a query about how Project Orca works.

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