The Computer Science of Change

Last night I attended an event with a local Barack Obama field organizer. The event was a collection of precinct leaders from Southern Chapel Hill and the question being addressed was "how do we work together". The answer was electrifying. Having spent a little time volunteering for the John Edwards campaign and having just touched on the databases there, I was really impressed with how the Obama campaign is managing their field campaign. In fact, I went into the meeting thinking I had a good idea for how we could turn out our vote in my precinct and left thinking that I am going to do exactly what the Obama campaign wants me to - and here is why.

For almost a year now people like Graig have been doing new voter registrations in Orange County (and throughout North Carolina). The amount of new voters is staggering and I wish I had that number at my fingertips, but I don't. I can tell you that the Chapel Hill office of the Obama campaign registered 400 people YESTERDAY. Just in Chapel Hill. On a Wednesday.

So, the first reason I will be doing exactly what they ask of me is that they've registered 10s of 1000s of new voters in Orange County.

For the last several months the campaign has gone into general election mode here, which I don't know all the ins and outs of, but I can tell you a few things. What they are doing is making contact with every sporadic Dem in Orange County and every Unaffiliated voter in Orange County. Those who are strongly McCain are never contacted again in any way, saving time. Those that are strongly Obama are moved out of this phase and into the GOTV phase. Those who are on the fence are contacted in person through canvassing. Canvassing a neighborhood changes on a daily basis, depending on how long ago undecideds were contacted, their likelihood of voting, their likelihood of being won-over by a face-to-face, etc. It's a statistical miracle. If you go out two days in a row you will contact two separate groups of people in the same neighborhood.

So, the second reason I will be doing exactly what they ask of me is that they are managing phone calling and door knocking so as to not tick-off potential change voters.

You've heard the rumor about Republicans who are supporting Barack Obama? Well, it's no rumor. I don't know who they are, but the campaign talked about a number of disaffected Republicans to whom they have reached out. They are swinging for Obama in large numbers. (after the red meat of last night and the mainstream cable's 24/7 love fest over McCain/Palin I would expect some of those people to swing back)

So, the third reason I will be doing exactly what they ask of me is that they are managing to target disaffected Republicans throughout North Carolina.

There is one group that hasn't been reached out to, and that SHOULD include you. Long-time, active Democrats. This stage of the game is about identifying potential Obama voters. Well, we're the ones aren't we?

So, the fourth reason I will be doing exactly what they ask of me is that they are not wasting time calling and knocking on doors of hardcore Democrats.

But, all of this is about to change and that is why you are needed! Soon, before you realize it, it will be Get Out The Vote time here in North Carolina. A week before early voting, two weeks of early voting, pre-election weekend, and election day. At this point the Obama campaign will be taking those lists of sporadic Dems, UNA, disattisfied Republicans, and hardcore Dems and knocking on every door. Getting every single one of those people to the polls.

That is how they won in Iowa to stun the nation and that is how they went about winning everywhere else in the country, including Alaska. That, is how they will go about winning in North Carolina. If we do this, if we knock on those doors and get out that vote we'll not only put Barack in the White House, but we'll put Hagan in the Senate, Perdue in the Governor's mansion, and Kissell 'n Carter in the Congress.

You need to see it to believe it, I can't wait to do it. We're working out the dates for our first precinct canvassing and after that we hope to be doing them all the time right through election day.

Get in touch, get out the vote, win. Sounds like fun.


Who else hasn't gone door to door yet?

Another great thing about the organization is that you can call and say, there are two of us who want to knock on doors tonight for two hours. Is that okay?

Yep. Stop by with nothing but your enthusiasm and they will give you everything you need from maps, scripts, handouts, checklists, etc. Go knock on 40 or 50 doors and bring back the paperwork. It's so EASY!

I don't think that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans, I just think he doesn't know.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

Since the primary

I've been helping with data entry and the computer end of the Obama campaign since the primary. I've also done door to door and phone banking. Its amazing. Our problem here in Beaufort County? The local DNC folks and candidates are getting PO'd at the amount of work and and people turning out to do it for the Obama campaign. Are you guys having similar problems?

It absolutely infuriates me. Don't we all benefit from active democratic presidential campaigning? Also, if these candidates want the kind of turnout that Obama is getting, then they need to get out in the streets and stir up the energy that we have. We had to work our asses off to get the kind of turnout that we have.

Great post, Robert.

You've hit on exactly what got me so inspired about the campaign. It's based on solid community organizing principles. No matter what Sarah Palin says, community organizers know to to get people out and active.

They've scaled these techiniques beautifully, and it's energizing the whole Democratic party. That said, Janeybell is right that it's causing some tension with down-ticket candidates and other Democratic orgs. The "coordinated campaign" is usually better coordinated at the top of the ticket. Local parties and candidates have to figure out how to ride the wave. If they can figure it out this time, they'll be in good shape come November!

I think it depends on how engrained the local process is.

Most of the people in OC are deeply engrained in their GOTV process, which has worked! But, what Obama is planning is more, much more, than OCDP could have ever imagined. I can understand why people would not want to give up what they have worked so hard to build, but at the same time this year we are building something much more.

We are going to try and kill two birds with one stone by tacking on one or two questions about local volunteering and updating the OCDP database at the same time.

Another thing that needs straightened out is how tightly controlled the database is being controlled. More people need access without having to cash in.

I don't think that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans, I just think he doesn't know.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

Thanks for the overview Robert

We're getting prepared to do our part. Hope some of this organization acumen rubs off on the OCDP operations.

there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. MLK,Jr. to SCLC Leadership Class

there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. MLK,Jr. to SCLC Leadership Class

The Obama ground game is very impressive

Since the beginning of the primaries, I have been very impressed with the tight organization and effective ground game of the Obama campaign. People are already saying it is the best run campaign in history.

Having gotten an inside glimpse of a couple of other presidential campaigns and how staffers operate, I wont be surprised if people will still be saying the Obama campaign is the best run Presidential campaign in history after the election is over. They are doing a fabulous job.

I hope it's enough to pull off this election because I fear that too many voters will fall for the ignorant, divisive wedge issue trap, again. After that despicable display of lies and hateful, divisive politicking last's clear that the McCain camp is using the same, old politics the Republicans have used for decades. Let's hope it doesn't work this time.

WTG, Robert on volunteering!

NCDem Amy on YouTube

Not really sure how impressive the ground game is....

Here in Wake County, we had a great GOTV program in 2004. We focused on reaching only registered Dems, because some folks felt that we shouldn't reach out to UNA voters. Then there was the obsession with micro-targeting on the part of the Kerry Edwards team.

They lost Wake County in 2004. I feel a big part of that was not having a single piece of paper that we could put into each DEM and UNA voters hands that listed each and every Democrat on the ballot from Kerry-Edwards down through the candidates in the non-partisan judicial races and Soil and Water Commissioners. We had a number of undervotes for president - because lots of people didn't know then (and still don't know now) that you have to cast a separate vote for President in order for it to be counted.

Determined not to repeat that again, the Wake County Democratic party, under the leadership of Chair Doris Weaver, started to organize our county's GOTV effort in February and March of this year. We were determined to have at bare minimum at least one slate/voter info guide being delivered in person to all 212 thousand unique addresses in the county where Dem and UNA voters lived at during the three weeks before the November election.

We wanted to also make sure that we have poll greeters standing at each and every precinct polling place and Early Voting site each and every hour the polling places were open - handing out palm cards with the message: "Voting is as Easy as 1-2-3" - meaning you vote 1) for President separate from the rest of the ballot; 2) vote straight party Democratic ticket; and 3) vote separately for all the judges and other non-partisan elected officers. We aimed for 100% coverage.

We wanted to have enough brochures to give to the candidates who would be canvassing over the summer - including the Obama camp. Because it's important that every Democratic candidate campaigns for every candidate up and down the ballot from them. Unfortunately, we weren't getting timely information from the state party about these slate/voter info guides - and we were told that we should wait until after Labor Day weekend to worry about our slate/voter info guide. We only just got this information the other day.

Well - what was missed out on by the state is that if the Obama registration canvassers had our brochures this summer (like right after the primary!!!!), they could have been a force multiplier for all candidates on the Wake County ballot. And they could have also educated voters about the ballot "peculiarities" like having to vote for President separately.

Voters can't count on getting the straight dope from poll workers, because I have heard voters come out of the polls telling me that poll workers told them that a straight party vote also counts for judges. So a voter info guide is a must!

Now the Obama campaign is concentrating on registration through October 10, 2008. What will they do AFTER October 10?

Will they make sure that all the new voters they registered are actually on the polling books for Election Day? NC had record numbers of newly registered voters for the May primary, and one of the reasons why it took 2.5 weeks to certify the results of that election was the due to the large number of provisional ballots due to newly registered voters who weren't yet on the books, or previously registered voters who didn't take the time to keep their registration up to date.

Will the Obama crew work with county parties to make sure that voters VERIFY their registration early enough to make sure they are on the books - otherwise they need to go to an Early Voting site and do Same Day Registration to update their records and cast a fully-counted ballot?

Will they work with county GOTV programs and make sure that all voters in the county know that they must vote separately for president and the judges in addition to the straight party ticket?

And after it's all said and done - will they make sure that the results are counted accurately? North Carolina has a model election law - the Public Confidence in Elections Act - and we gather lots of data at each and every precinct on total ballots cast, undervotes, overvotes, spoiled ballots, canceled ballots, etc. We can use that data to determine if there are any problems with the election due to human/clerical error, voting machine/computer problems, or even fraud/hacking. But that information does no one any good if it's not made available in a timely manner. And unless we have someone recording that information for each party at each of almost 3000 precincts in NC - we won't get that info.

That's because the NC State Board of Elections bought a software package called "Clarity" from a vendor that also provides the privately-owned website that the SBOE used to report election results - and they do not include that vital information on this website. NC election law requires that we use only certified software, voting machines and systems to cast and count the votes - but there is no requirement that they do that for election results. So how will we know that the results we get on Election Night are accurate and that there are no problems with vote counting or even voter education?

If you think that is not a problem - then ask yourself why 39% of the undervotes in the 2004 presidential race in Wake County came from just 3 precincts in Morrisville? Was it a counting problem, or voter education, or something else? If we don't know the answers to the 2004 election undervotes, how can we hope to make sure that doesn't happen again?

North Carolina has 100 counties, and voters 66 counties that are 100% optical scan. 11 counties have mixed Mixed Paper Ballot Voting Systems and DREs with VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) presumably for their Early Voting

That leaves 23 counties with DREs with VVPATof those counties cast paper ballots. Unfortunately, around 40% of the votes that will be recorded on DRE machines with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails that have printers that fail between 1.5% and 9% of the time. How will that effect the accuracy of the vote counting this year if recounts are needed?

I just hope that the Obama crew doesn't put all their eggs in the one basket of voter education. I hope that they will work with the county party organizations that will still be there AFTER this election. They have a great chance to fold their volunteers into county-wide GOTV efforts to elect EVERY Democrat on the ballot - from Barack Obama & Joe Biden down to the lowest level race in each county. They have got to be committed to doing just that - and it's not too late to start planing that RIGHT NOW!

Let's get the voters REVVed up!

Verify (registration early enough so voters could use Same Day Registration at Early Voting sites and cast a full and not a provisional ballot)
Vote (and verify that vote before you cast it!)