NOTE: This is effectively a draft of the post I want to put up. And even the post itself will be pretty rudimentary. I just don’t have much time. I’ll put this up now & fix it soon HOPEFULLY. ALSO: I wrote most of this last night, but I haven’t proofread this at all… I gotta get back to work….
Reporting…. from….. Ohio…. sooooo….. tired…… must. focus. type.
Ok kids –
So I’ve been meaning to blog from freezing Ohio, but I’m just working too hard and am too fried to think of anything coherent to say. This is one of those “you’ll think about it when it’s over” times in my life. Mostly I’m just working my ass off, trying to use my powers for awesome.
So given the lack of coherent narrative structure, I’m just going to drop you some notes: I really do want to capture some of this moment & I know that some of you have been wondering what I’m doing & how it’s going…:
- Tired: first off, I’m tired. So tired. I’m pretty much pushing 14 hours days. Every day. I get up, go to the office, wrestle with technology in the name of Hope. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’ve been here for a little over 2 weeks & that has been every day. I’ve taken a few breaks for a few hours here and there, but honestly not many.*
The work, a.k.a. what the hell am I doing?: Well I’m here officially as part of the Data Team, but really I’m helping a few teams & constantly looking for places to help.
Data team: The data team is in many ways the center of the Ohio effort. They are basically the Oracles to the Universe of What is Known in Ohio. The campaign is run out of two major databases: the list of registered voters in Ohio, and the list of people of any interest that the campaign knows about. Are you a Obama vote? Are you leaning McCain? Have you volunteered? Are you likely to vote for Obama? You’re in the database.
This system allows for finding voters, finding volunteers, targeting mailings and door-to-door efforts and phone banks and volunteer recruitment. In short almost everything that goes into the direct-voter interaction of the campaign comes through the database system at some point.
This is a massive massive undertaking & I believe it is unprecedented in scope and power for the Democratic Party (does anyone have good articles on this? I’m desperate to read more). Karl Rove was involved with the vaunted Republican version of this type of vast voter tracking/slicing/dicing system & it is widely credited with winning the close election in 2000 (that and the f^%$ng Supreme Court). The Dems have finally gotten their act together on this front & from what I’ve seen, it is impressive. Very impressive.
My jobs on the data team are really skating around the edges, doing some daily updates and maintenance tasks & occasionally pulling more complex information out of the database for other groups. But mostly I’m just a lowly accolyte on all things data. The real data jockeys are a bunch 18 to 25 yr olds (of both sexes) who have been doing this for months and are evidently really really good at their jobs. That brings up another part of the Ohio phenomenon: The Obama campaign has moved its A-List folks to Ohio (& presumably other battleground states) & so the level of competence and focus around here is high. These people feel very battle-tested and I think the long primary fight really helped whip this organization into shape. There is a remarkable efficiency in what they do here.
- Early Voting Team – In Ohio, people have been allowed to vote since 9/30/08. The Early Voting Team has been doing a lot to identify the people who said they were going to vote early for Obama and to get them to actually go do it. I helped them to do a bit of data analysis on how many people actually early voted out all the people who told the campaign they would, and some work to identify where people were at in the process of early voting.
- Vote Protection Team: Most of my work the last week or so has been here in VoPro land. Vote Protection is all about setting up systems to deal with the possibility of voter disenfranchisement. I don’t know the scale and scope of all the efforts, but I have been heavily involved with generating the massive numbers of forms required to get various different types of observers various different types of access to individual polling places all over Ohio. Think database accesses, think Excel macro programming (I taught myself Visual Basic this week) & think a lot of mail merging in Word. Now multiply the number of documents you are imagining by 200x. It is fairly brutal in that it is multi-step, pretty complicated, and very repetitive work. The upside is that my MS Excel, MS Access & MS Word skills are growing by leaps and bounds! Another month of learning like this & I can be a gainfully employed office worker if the whole Apple thing doesn’t work out! 🙂 Seriously though this may well be the most important of the things I’ve been doing here – we’ll see.
- Data team: The data team is in many ways the center of the Ohio effort. They are basically the Oracles to the Universe of What is Known in Ohio. The campaign is run out of two major databases: the list of registered voters in Ohio, and the list of people of any interest that the campaign knows about. Are you a Obama vote? Are you leaning McCain? Have you volunteered? Are you likely to vote for Obama? You’re in the database.
Ground game: The most stunning thing about all this is the scale & the scope of this effort. Last Monday or maybe Tuesday, the Ohio organization knocked on over 200,000 doors in one day all across the state of Ohio. Two hundred thousand doors. That was a weekday. That is just vast. I have never heard of anything like it. We’re doing stunning, stunning things in terms of people on the ground making voter contact. I’ve never heard of anything like it. Has anyone else? And this is just Ohio. I know for a fact that Pennsylvania is doing something very similar. The two states’ Obama organizations are fiercely competitive in a fun-loving talking-smack to each other kinda way (you should hear the conference calls 🙂 ) And reading through fivethirtyeight.com’s reports from the various states, it seems like other battleground states (at least) have fairly hard core Obama organizing going on. Also from those reports, McCain’s offices (at least the ones that fivethirtyeight has seen) are fairly small and understaffed.
This leads to all kinds of questions that can only be answered on election day. Does this mean we’ll win? If we lose close after working this hard what does it say about our efforts or our country? Similar questions if we win close. If we don’t win, what will it do to the legions of folks who have been pulled in? If we do win, can this translate into something sustaining? I’ve heard some people talk of a movement – is that possible? And also I am really curious about the historical significance of a ground game like this – has it been done before? Also how did it develop, some have told me that it really comes from Obama’s community organizing history – is that true? What does that mean in terms of how it was done?
- Geeky notes: As a side note, this whole little adventure has been a plethora of geeky moments:
- I needed a PC to run MS Access! Ok quick use VMWare Fusion to run Windows on my Mac!
- I need MS Access! Hey look – Microsoft has a 30 day free trial version 🙂
- My iPhone 3G has shone – GPS with Google Maps in a strange new City has been amazing
- On a scary note, my Mac’s hard drive is slowly dying – so far it is mostly effecting the Windows partition on my drive (THANKS BRIAN RICE & MATT GINTZON from VMWare for all the help!!). I’m hoping it will hang on til Tuesday.
Ohio: I haven’t gotten to see much of Ohio. I’m pretty much locked up in Ohio Democratic Party HQ all day. But Columbus seems like a really nice town. I’m staying in a beautiful home (nicer than mine) with a really nice host couple, and it is in a cool old German area of town called German Village. Small streets, paved with brick, a few little shops here and there and an AMAZING deli (katzingers.com). My hosts hooked me up with a bike & with warm clothes (thank God – it is FREEZING) so life is good
The biggest drawbacks to this place, other than the occasional anti-abortion protesters outside HQ, & the cold is the fact that it is almost impossible to get a salad around here that does not have bacon, salami, or beef in it. What is up with these people?
*Most of the time that I would have been taking a break was devoted to getting the SF League of Conservation Voters slate card mailer out back home & that has been a considerable chunk of work too!
.ps If you want my SF voting recommendations & I haven’t sent them to you yet, hit me with an email!