Green Party of Canada Voter ID database

Distributed Data Natwork

Distributed Data Network

I read a very encouraging article today on, about a greenparty hosted database called GRIMES. the purpose of this database is to provide access to voters lists and the contact information to any green party volunteer with a computer and internet connections. This is potentially an excellent tool to mobilize volunteers to ID the vote from wherever they happen to be.

According to Darcy Kraus,  GOTV coordinator Guelph 2008, GRIMES is a much quicker and more effective tool then the CIVICrm application that was supposed to perform this task in the past.  As he correctly pointed out, in this age of  VOIP service any number of volunteers located anywhere in the world can be targeted on any strategic riding, or list. I particularly like the feature whereby the database presents one contact at a time, which preserves data security.

Having managed a number of ID-GOTV efforts in the past, I have a few suggestions about what lookup, or search capabilities a hosted database should have. I will apologize in advance because I am not familiar with GRIMES’s back end, so some  of this functionality may already be there. The obvious is search by poll number. A second is search by street name.

Search by street name? This speaks to the need for a sign canvas directed at arterial roads and high visibility locations. Another very powerful fuctionality would be the ability to search for ethnic specific names and letter groups that can then be reviewed and tagged for the appropriate mother tongue canvas. For example any surnames with a cz in them are likely to be Polish. Your’ Polish speaking volunteers can visually scan a list of cz names and tag them by ethnicity and mother tongue for the subsequent Polish language canvas. There should also be a field that captures ethnicity/religion to tag, for example Muslim voters, because it can reasonably be assumed that a targeted message could be affective with different sub sets of the electorate. It is reasonable to assume that anybody with a name that is some variant of mohammed is a muslim. Anybody with ‘polous’, as a character group in their surname is pretty obviously Greek. You get the picture I’m sure. Look at your own ethnic background, and you’ll think of a number of ways to search large database, and find people of the same ethnicity as yourself.

There should also be a drop down field, with pre-formatted descriptions of a handful of key issues that may be relevant to the particular voter being canvassed. The value of this for subsequent follow up with soft supporters, or undecided voters should be obvious. Armed with this knowledge, the Candidate can blast through a list of undecideds, and leaning Green/Lib/CPC voters with the most compelling 30 second ‘pitch’ on this issue and win over a lot of votes. Incidentally, this is an extremely good use of the candidates time. An hour or two by the Candidate on the phone every day, converting soft, and undecideds will be a great use of the data, and will reap definite rewards at the advance, and regular polls.

I mentioned soft supporters, and Green/Liberal/Conservative etc. supporters above. The existing layout of Grimes has ‘Strong Green’, ‘Weak Green’, ‘Undecided’, ‘Weak opposition’, etc. This is not discriminating enough. There should be two drop down lists, encompassing strength of support, and Party of support. The first should be ‘Strong’, ‘Leaning’, ‘Undecided’, while the second should record ‘Green’, ‘Liberal’, ‘Conservative’, ‘NDP’, ‘Other’, and ‘Undecided’. The types of uses for this far more discriminating data are varied. Even if the local campaign doesn’t have the knowledge or skills to work this data effectively, the central Party could oh-so-easily make hay out of it. The local Candidates phone canvas should regularly target the undecideds, and leaning towards, and weak supporters and work on them. They are worth the effort, because the whole campaign has been filtering out these targets from the general population, and it is for this that a personal contact with the candidate is very effective indeed. BTW, the Candidate should never waste her/his time on strong opposition supporters. There are plenty of soft oppo’s to convert, so why get into long arguments with totally unlikely targets?

Nationally, the GPC could take on the task of broadcasting targeted messages to the various supporters of the other Party’s. For example, if the Liberal Party campaign should badly stumble mid-campaign, and take it in the neck over bad communication over a wedge issue, it’s time to leap into action. The central Party could  then fund demon dialling machines, and recorded messages ( at pennies per call), which would specifically address this issue. They could deliver the Green message most likely to resonate with these supporters, and invite them to the website, or to; ‘Press 1 to talk to a Green Part rep.’

There is another potential use of the other Party’s ID’d supporters. I know it stinks. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but a well worn tactic for winning the election in a tightly contested riding is to suppress the turnout of the other contender(s). If I were the Campaign manager of a GPC Campaign that was really really close to winning the seat, then I would earn my pay by considering every option. That includes opposition research, in depth, of the other Candidates. Most of the time, the oppo. candidate has gone on the record with an opinion, vote, conviction, or gaffe that really would damage them with their own typical supporter, if only it were publicised. In the runup to EDay, a phone canvas of their own supporters to inform them of this FACT, or even better, a recorded message, that included the oppo. candidate saying the bad thing could be directed at all their identified supporters who would take exception to it. This will suppress their turnout on Eday, and could tip the balance in a tight race. Again, I know it stinks, but ultimately, holding the Candidate to account for their words and deeds is part of the democratic process. Incidentally, this is the purpose of negative advertising in politics. To suppress turnout of the oppo supporters, NOT to convert, or win over.

It is the job of the Central Campaign to do the issue research that will arm the Canvas chair with the most effective message to deliver to each opposition Party’s supporters for each of these purposes. It is the job of the Canvas chair to train, plan, and implement each specific canvas, while the timing of each type of canvas will be jointly co-ordinated by the Campaign Manager, the Canvas Chair, and the Communications Chair. Just remember to manage the timing well, with earned media, paid media, literature drops, and canvas each delivering consistent messages at the same time, that re-inforce each other.

The last point that I will make is that the database being built is a long term asset. GRIMES should take into account that the data will be employed in future Federal, Provincial, and Municipal elections. Each dataset, (election), should duplicate every field for re-recording all the previously tagged data, while presenting data collected from past elections for viewing by the canvasser. Just because somebody voted Green Federally in 2008 doesn’t mean that they will do so in 2009, or Provincially, etc. If an elector displays a pattern of consistent support then they could be targeted in between elections for a canvas recruiting members or volunteers. If somebody voted Green in 5 elections, then an endorsement of a municipal candidate by the Green Party will almost certainly carry a lot of weight with them. If somebody switches votes every time, but consistently voted based on the same issue, then the correct message to deliver becomes very obvious, and they can be converted Green easily, despite the fact that they may never have supported the Greens before.

Did this post sound negative, and overly critical of GRIMES? That is NOT the intention. I am totally enthusiastic about this software. The volunteer developer should be eagerly sought out by the Party, and they should be handed a pile of cash to make the sort of improvements I am calling for here. I can practically read their minds for what they were trying to achieve, and why they put it together like this. They wanted to keep it extremely simple for a novice to log on, and start being very effective with zero training. Kudo’s to them! It worked! Maybe version 2.1 could have a little training presentation, or video at the time of logging on, to ensure that it remains very easily used, and that the broader functionality of the upgrade is properly used by Canvassers.

That’s it for today. I really apologise for such a long delay between posts. My only excuse is that I have been really swamped this month, but I’ll try to post more regularly in the future.

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