Voter Databases and Systems with Chris Littleton CW 26- Transcript

Voter Databases and Systems

 

John Tsarpalas: Today’s guest on Commonwealthy is Chris Littleton, director of operations at Voter Gravity. Voter Gravity is a database and system for campaigns. We’ve talked about this in past podcasts on voter ID and targeting voters.

It’s important to have a good database, especially if you are going to be going door-to-door and making phone calls. If you want to win, you have to do that.

Chris mentions in here (c)4’s. I think in some previous podcasts (c)4’s have come up, so I wanted to give a quick definition of that. (c)4 is an IRS designation for a 501(c)4, which is a not-for-profit organization. However, it is different then a 501(c)3 in that a 501(c)3 is an educational organization and donations to that are tax except.

501(c)4’s are not-for-profits, but they are tax exempt. They can do issue advocacy work. Sometimes you will see a commercial on TV where it will talk about an issue and they’ll say, “Call you state senator” or “Call your congressman and tell them that you like this or you don’t like that.” A lot of that is done with a 501(c)4 because it’s advocating for an issue.

Let’s get to what’s really an important key aspect to every campaign, and that is having an excellent voter database system. Commonwealthy #26, Voter Databases and Systems with Chris Littleton.

Today on Commonwealthy, my guest is Chris Littleton, direction of operations at Voter Gravity. One of the reasons that I wanted to talk about Voter Gravity and what Chris does is because it is a campaign database.

It is something that we touched on in earlier episodes of this podcast back in episode ten about going door-to-door, in episode thirteen when we were targeting voters, and in episode fourteen with voter ID scripts. These were all about finding information and data and finding voters and then putting them into your database.

So, Chris, welcome to Commonwealthy. Let’s start with the basics of a database. Where does someone start? They have to have some information and a list. How do they get a list and how do they build it?

Chris Littleton: Sure. A lot of initial lists, at least in the political arena, begin with registered voters in the state. Typically that is available through public record. Depending on which state you live in or even the size of the data set that you need, that may cost some money. But in a number of states it’s actually free for those running for office.

So that’s sort of the root file, the basis for getting started. Obviously you are taking into account anybody who you could potentially speak with, that being a registered voter. From there, it really becomes what do you want to do in your campaign? Who are you trying to contact? When? Why? How? And what are you trying to accomplish?

Really I think all politics and any kind of voter contact at least begins with the list of registered voters in any given state.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Let’s go back a little bit in your history, Chris. You were in Ohio. You did some kind of petition drive there. Tell us a little more about that because you’ve got some political experience. That’s one of the reasons why you are so qualified to talk about this.

Chris Littleton: Sure. So I guess my history in politics is I got into this very much at a grassroots and very much in direct voter contact at a field level in 2009 and 2010 quite a bit. Some of it was with campaigns and some of it was with (c)4’s. I started doing a lot of this on my own.

By 2010 and 2011, I was helping to lead a citizen’s initiative in Ohio that initially required us gathering just over a half million signatures from registered voters in the state of Ohio.

In that process, we actually constructed our own database using registered voters in order to verify. And individual could be checked to make sure that they were registered voters as they were the only people who were supposed to sign.

So, yes, that was a very, very large project, culminating in a statewide vote in 2011, which we won actually in all 88 counties in Ohio. It was fairly unprecedented as well by one of the largest margins in victory of any citizen’s initiative in Ohio history.

Since then I have done multiple initiatives, worked with multiple (c)4’s, and done a lot of independent expenditure work. A lot of it rooted in the idea that we need to talk to the right people with the right message. So, yes, I’ve done quite a bit of field level campaign work.

John Tsarpalas: That’s perfect. That’s the background that I think you and the guys at Voter Gravity bring to your product. It’s lacking; you get people that are data people or computer geeks if you will who can put together the system, but they don’t understand the nuances of what’s needed to make this work in the field and in politics. You guys do get that. I think that’s your edge on everybody.

Chris Littleton: We have the really smart computer geeks, too. Our head of development is actually a MIT grad, a brilliant guy based in Colorado. So there are very sharp individuals, but they are not necessarily politicians.

They were not in the field, so they rely on myself and Ned Ryun, our CEO, someone else who has done a lot of field work over the years. They rely on us for what it is like to be in the field. What is it really like for our clients and users to need a system like this? How should it function when you are somebody’s door?

Yes, I do think it’s a significant difference for us. Yes, the technical expertise we have, but we also bring the real world experience to the table as well.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, so you’ve got a database. They are going to buy it from their county clerk or their state board or elections. Or in some cases, if they are a Republican candidate, they might be getting information through the Republican Nation Committee’s system?

Chris Littleton: Sure, absolutely. There are a lot of data firms out there that do nothing but provide data. Obviously RNC and Data Trust can be a source. They are not a firm necessarily, but they can get it from them.

And then of course in the case of Voter Gravity, we provide a file that we keep independent of anybody just so our clients do have something that they can rely on in any given state. But they could acquire this themselves.

Typically what this will require is bringing that data into a platform that you can do something with it. So whether it be something as simple as Microsoft Access. You could manage at very small levels something in a spreadsheet. So a simple csv or Excel document, you could manage something like this.

In order to run the custom queries and have some kind of relational access to voters, the data points, and then other voters and data points that you need to see in groups, you need some form of a database.

Whether that be web-based or local, I think every candidate in today’s day and age has to have some ability to query and filter their data in a way that tells them something about their work. If not, its like reading Greek. If you don’t speak Greek, it’s not going to be helpful to you at all.

John Tsarpalas: Kristina Keats, who has been on a lot of these podcasts with me and is one of my associates, and I have used Access. We’ve used Access for school board elections and things like that. We’ve even used Excel. When we were in a town that only had a thousand houses, we used Excel.

But what systems like Voter Gravity does and systems that are geared for a campaign is they take it much further than just the data and sorting it. It’s what you can then do with it.

One of the things I really love about your system is the walk maps. We talked about in our door-to-door podcast about identifying households you want to go to in advance. So you can sort your data based on if you’re in a local election and you want to start with people that only vote in that election. You can sort the data for that. But then you can print the walk list that only shows those houses, correct?

Chris Littleton: Yeah, that’s correct. The magic I think of modern technology and systems as a whole with regards to political technology is that, yes, like you mentioned, you can have everything in a database that can’t even be query-able. What makes that difficult to use is a pending data in from the fieldwork that you are doing.

So a little more context, just because I don’t know who hears this podcast. If you are out walking and let’s say you just use a Google map and go to these respective houses and have a list of registered voters, you are going to ask them a couple of questions, whether it is a basis for support or issue-based questions, really anything that you are asking them. At that point, you have to have a means to get the data back into the system.

So as you alluded to, what we are wanting to do is one, make the process of creating something over a map efficient and two, targeted. Targeted meaning that absolutely we want to be able to filter by just the voters with the propensity to vote.

Depending on what stage of your campaign you are in, possibly you are simply identifying supporters. Possibly you are just finding out what people believe on certain issues. Possibly you are trying to persuade voters. Each of those requires different questions and a different interaction at the door.

So now the system also needs to be able to facilitate those different interactions. I think the best system and the smartest systems also give you the information that you already have on those individuals.

Now, we can’t really do this with a piece of paper. There is too much information. This could be two pages of information on a single individual listing out all of this information. Obviously when you are going to hundreds of doors in any given day, it is very cumbersome to even try something like that on paper. It would not be a very efficient process at all.

So the idea that we can combine the maps and the targeting with multiple layers of contact actually and previous history… In layman’s terms, we can call it a customer relationship management system (CRM), such as Salesforce or any given sales force in the US uses.

So conceptually, here’s where we are getting to. I’ll bring this all back together. Conceptually where we really want to be is where a company like Procter and Gamble… they have some of the best consumer marketing in the world. Everybody knows their brands: Tide, Mr. Clean, tons of brands everyone would know. Or Kroger is a large grocery store chain.

When they are having interactions with people, whether it is online or in the store front, they are gathering information on those individuals. Why? Because these are consumers of information.

The more I understand about those individuals, the more I can speak to their needs and retarget them in the future. The gold standard, of course, is opening up some form of two-way communication so that I am gathering information and meeting needs in the most efficient way possible.

That’s all we are really doing with Voter Gravity, but in the form of politics. When I say that, I tell people, “Let’s stop calling them voter all together. Let’s refer to people as consumers of political information because that’s what they are.”

Your product is a candidate or an issue. You’ve got to determine who are the consumers for your issue. Who do you resonate with most? Within that audience of people that potentially resonate with you, what’s the best message to choose and the best means to stay in contact with them?

All of this process-this management of individuals as a consumer of political information, the targeting, the messaging-is incredibly difficult unless you are using a database. The database is even very, very awkward if you don’t have the means to append that information in a very easy way.

Back to the concept of walk list and questions, yes, we want everything overlaid on a map so I know where I am going. I need to make sure it is filterable and query-able so I can drill down to the target voters that I want to speak with.

And then I want a mobile application so I can go on my phone or tablet or iPhone or however you contacting that voter, take in the information in real time and append it back to the database for future analysis. This is now possible.

Close to sixty-five percent of the American population has smartphones at this point. The average person has this ability with a very, very simple system.

John Tsarpalas: So you are saying that if someone is out door-to-door, they can open up their smartphone and the map will be. Then there will be a list of questions there. They can click off the answers they got at the door. Something like that?

Chris Littleton: That’s exactly right. They can have a conversation with whoever answers the door. In the database, you’ll have the ability to target the voter. I talked about that before.

One of the very, very rudimentary indicators of someone you need to speak with is their propensity to vote. If they voted in the last two or three elections, chances are they are going to vote in that one as well. So I look at their prior voter history.

So maybe your target is only that simple. So, yes, I see them on a map. I know where I am going in that neighborhood so I know who I want to speak with. You’ve pre-chosen the individuals you want to speak with.

And when you get to the door, any voter in that household you will want the ability to have a conversation with because you don’t know who will answer. Ideally you want to speak with your target voter. In either case-target voter or not target voter-you should possess the ability to survey them right at their door having a real conversation with them and capture the data in that moment that appends your database and makes it possible to do future analysis on what they are telling you.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So years ago, we would send people out door-to-door and then they would come back in. They had a list. It was a piece of paper. It was a list that was printed from a database, but, my gosh, back in the old days, we ran them on DOS. It was way back.

We’d go out door-to-door and they would write down, “Yes, supporting the candidate. Yes, we’ll put a yard sign.” We had little check off boxes and some notes. But someone would have to sit down and hand type all of that information into a database, which took hours an hours and allowed for some error, too, because people would get things in the wrong places.

Now it can be done right on someone’s smartphone or tablet while they are out right there. For people who don’t have it, you can still do a paper list, correct?

Chris Littleton: Sure. You can still do a paper list. I’ll even add to that sort of the next stage, the evolution of voter contact and data really was bubble sheets where they filled in the circles or barcodes.

John Tsarpalas: Right, where the barcodes where the bubbles.

Chris Littleton: The problem with these of course is it still requires manual entry at the end of day. Somebody has to put that into a scanner. If you’ve ever been a part of one of those, you know the stories are legendary at this point.

This was, by the way, as recently as 2012. Major states, swing states, were still using this technology in the presidential election. So we are not talking twenty years ago. We are talking three years ago.

These sheets if they get wrinkled, if they are not filled out properly, if they get a stain, they will not work in the scanners to kind of automate that process and make it a little bit easier. Now we are back to data entry.

Or what if it just gets lost? A volunteer did all of this great work, but they couldn’t come into the office immediately afterwards. They had to run somewhere and send it. A few kids jump in the car and all of the sudden it is stuck under the seat. They didn’t know it was there.

This is a really common story. All of this work is done and the data is never even brought into the system due to honest mistakes sometimes or weather, for goodness sake! Your sheets get wet and they are not going to work anymore.

Now the campaign is wasting time and money on something that they are not even getting results from. And if they do get results, they are delayed. Or in the case of so many post-election interviews that we did last year just talking with people after, volunteers and staff people were burnt out on the process.

It’s very disheartening to work all day long and then you realize at seven or eight o’clock at night when the day is supposed to be done, you are now going to spend the next four or five hours entering data or trying to make sure the machines can scan in data properly because it has to be done.

Even then there could be a two or three day delay in getting back results because the results actually went to somebody else. We see this process here. It’s terrible. Its time consuming and it costs a lot of money to none of those a win-win issues for the campaign itself.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. So say you’ve got some volunteers and they want to go out door-to-door for you. You don’t even have to have them come into the office. You can send them their list right to their phone and their map right to their phone?

Chris Littleton: Yeah, that’s exactly right. All they need to be able to do is login and sync the data onto their phone.

John Tsarpalas: So those of you that live in big areas where your district is multiple counties… It was easier, for instance, for us in an urban area because people were closer together and we could come together in an office, hand them lists, and they would go back out and then bring the list back in.

But where there is distance… But even why bother? People can just get it sent to their phones. The other beautiful thing is if they are out there doing what they said they were going to do and they are sending the data back, you know they are doing what they volunteered to do and fulfilling what they said they would be up to. It’s a way to manage.

In the old days, you give a list and if someone went out and didn’t come back with the list, you didn’t know what happened. Or they would say they were going to do it next Saturday and next Saturday came and went and you don’t know what happened. But now you have almost real time management of knowing what is happening, correct?

Chris Littleton: Yeah, it’s literally real time management. There’s even a dashboard that shows you totals for each individual: surveys completed, doors knocked, phone calls made. We can discuss later the whole concept of integrating all of this data.

What’s happening with regards to volunteer activity and direct voter contact is being tracked. You’re identifying supporters. I see it on real time on my dashboard. And then you also see the raw numbers as well.

This was very disconcerting a few years ago when I was doing fieldwork. We’d have these giant Saturdays where fifty or a hundred people show up. You are really excited you are going to do a ton of voter contact.

People come in. Let’s say they all brought their sheets. Great. At that moment in time, I have no idea what happened. I don’t know what new issues are more important. I don’t know how many contacts we actually made.

There’s a world of a difference in somebody completing a walk and actually gathering data that is actionable. If seventy-five percent of the people they tried to reach weren’t home, well, there’s some benefit to that twenty-five. But I am going to have to go back out there again.

That was something that we didn’t know and wasn’t trackable in real time at least. It required a lot of extra effort to track of all of those things. But, yes, all of that is available in real time so campaign managers, they can make adjustments on the fly as issues come up that are preeminent in your campaign.

This is a real example. Let’s say there are three issues that you know are a big deal in your campaign. We are not asking candidates to change their principle position on those things; I am not suggesting that.

But let’s say you have three. You’ve been talking about these three things, but what you are finding as you’re touching people in real time is that one of those issues in particular is really the hot button issue and you are on the right side of it.

I’d stop talking about the other two and focus more on the first on because it’s going to gain you the most supporters. You are resonating emotionally with the voters. That wasn’t possible before. We just couldn’t see that kind of change, but you can now. You can see it in the conversations in real time and make your adjustments.

The three words we use are money, manpower, and message. You have to be able to control those at all times as a campaign or else you are not doing your jobs. Again, real time data is the key to making money, manpower, and message work for you.

John Tsarpalas: I am going to tell a little story here. Back in 1998, I was the campaign manager for a guy running for state representative here in Illinois. I also was a precinct captain. In some parts of the state or country, they are called precinct committeemen. I had a precinct I worked.

Part of my job back then was to go to the poll just before it closed and get a tape print out what the vote totals were. I’d take them back to the township office so that they could keep track of what was going on and reporting, etc.

I got to this polling place and got inside there. They lock the doors when the polls close while they are doing the tabulating. Well, they were having trouble getting the thing to tabulate or add and work out.

I’m in there and I’m locked in there with a guy that is a Democrat poll watcher. I am getting agitated because I am also the campaign manager and I’ve got to get back to the campaign. I’m locked in and I also have to get this receipt. I don’t know what is going on.

This guy said to me after about an hour and a half, “Relax. I know you lost. I knew you lost in August.” I was like, “What? How do you know that?” He said, “Well, we went door to door and we counted up all of our pluses, those people that are voting for our candidate. We had a thousand extra pluses on August 16th. We knew we had this won. All we had to do was get them to the polls. We had a thousand union workers here and we got them there.”

This was my epiphany. This is when I realized how important field operations were, voter ID, and database. What you are saying is your system will tell you every day if you are winning or losing because every day you’re going to have a total of who went out and found people that are going to vote for you. You know in advance what your number is that you need that are going to vote for you to win.

In the case of that Democrat’s campaign, he had his numbers in early August and the election wasn’t until November. And they kept working. They just literally killed us. But they knew they were ahead. They knew where their voters were. They knew that they were winning.

I think that’s really important with the real time situation that current data collection systems offer. I think that’s fantastic.

Chris Littleton: Yeah, that is a perfect example. In fact, there is a field in the dashboard that we want every client to use. I can’t say every client uses it; we just wish they would. It is vote goal.

They put in their vote goal and that vote goal should take into account the last three elections commiserate to the one you are running in right now. If it is a two-person race, you should consider fifty-percent plus one. So just shoot for fifty-one percent. That’s your base vote goal. If you really want to be aggressive, shoot for fifty-five or sixty percent in a two-person race.

That number is the only thing that matters. The number of doors you hit doesn’t matter. The number of phone calls you make doesn’t matter. The number of literature, mailings, and commercials doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except for your vote goal.

If you have not positively identified and cannot say with one hundred percent confidence, “This person is going to support me,” then you are behind the curve of what the left is doing now. Dems have been doing this for years.

They’ve never left the idea of retail politics, fieldwork, or face-to-face voter contact because they understand that is ten times more powerful than anything you can do with regards to any other service.

And all of those are important, right? Mail is important. Phone calls are important. Media is important. All of those are important.

John Tsarpalas: Sure, it’s all part of it.

Chris Littleton: But bang for your buck, nothing is better than having a human-to-human conversation with another person. Nothing is more important. You learn more about them. You build relationships. You can positively identify them as a supporter or not.

So you need to lock down that number. Absolutely you know on election night if you’ve met your vote goal. I’ll even take it a step further. We have an application within the mobile tool in our system. It allows you to mark those people off as they come in to the polls.

So per precinct, you show, “Hey, all of these people are our supporters. Great. I need to make sure they turn out.” As you see them show up or in some states they allow you to look at whose voted or they post whose voted publicly (same thing with early voting), you are actually going to mark off in real time who comes in and who votes. You make sure the campaign has that.

So you just click a submit button on your phone as those people come in. The campaign gets that back. If three people have voted and you are supposed to have seven people voting at that precinct, your campaign operation now knows they need to call the remaining four people and go, “Hey, you said you were voting today. We know you support us. When are you getting to the polls? Do you need a ride? How can we help?”

That is something that the left has done really, really well for years. Traditionally Republicans have kind of abandoned that type of fieldwork, an Election Day effort that we would call flushing or strike list at polls. It needs to be a lot more frequent than it is now.

John Tsarpalas: Right. I grew up in the Chicago area. The Chicago machine is about knowing who the voters are getting them to the polls. That is how they win here. That is how they’ve always won.

Way back in 1981, I was in the Libertarian Party and I was a poll watcher in a Chicago precinct in the city, in the thick of the machine. They had an internal squabble among Democrats at that time.

So the Democrat precinct captain stood out front of the poll. He was fixated on just having votes for the guy he’d like to win, but not enough to tick off the person that they were running against.

It was between people that ended up being the mayor of Chicago, Jane Byrne and Richard J. Daley, the second mayor of Chicago. Richard J. at that time was attorney general and Byrne was the mayor.

He couldn’t tick either one of them off. He literally had people go out, pick up their people, and bring them to him. He’d hand them a card that they took into the polls on how to vote. The card changed at different times in the day based on where he was at so that he could get his vote exactly where he wanted it. It was unbelievable.

But that is why they are so successful here. They have taken that and spread across the entire state. Quite frankly, the Obama campaign came out of the Chicago machine. They’ve done that nationwide. 

Chris Littleton: To build on that, this is a story directly from an Obama campaign director at a state level. This was post-2012 when I say, “You guys won. We lost. I am just going to ask you a few questions.” We were just sitting around having a cup of coffee.

We were talking about day of election activity, Get Out the Vote in general. So everyone had an Obama score. Every voter has an Obama score. Depending on where you fell on that Obama score, you would be considered a priority voter for them.

A priority voter for them, once you hit a certain level of Obama score, meant that if there was earlier absentee voting in a respective state and this was a target state or key state, if that absentee request, they wanted to make sure that they saw you in person if you had not voted. So they had seventy-two hour turn arounds or even less.

If you are an early voter or voting by mail, they want to see you in person to make sure you vote. It’s the same process on Election Day. They score it and target it so depending on who you were with the priority levels, decided who was touched and how fast.

But that degree of organizational competence is fascinating to me. It’s absolutely incredible. It’s why even though in 2012 Obama wasn’t as popular as he was in 2008 and the overall vote number was down, their strategy came not the wave that had in 2008; they knew they couldn’t get it.

They said, “We’re just going to have to focus on who our core voters. Register more within those communities. Focus on those individuals and make sure they get out to vote.” And that’s it. That became their very simple strategy.

In his words, they had a goal of being at parody with the Romney campaign on the airwaves with regards to media messaging. They didn’t feel that was a place they were going to win. In their key states, specifically in their big population, key counties within those key states, they invested everything into field and a very, very competent and efficient Get Out the Vote process for targeted voters.

And that was it. That was their secret in 2012 above and beyond anything else. And it worked.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, of course it did. So we touched on this briefly earlier. This also ties into phone systems for volunteers to make phone calls and paid staff to make phone calls.

Chris Littleton: It does.

John Tsarpalas: So tell me more about how that integrates and how that works. What do people see?

Chris Littleton: Sure. So there is kind of three options. For the smaller campaigns out there listening to this, I think they will appreciate this. We do have one option that is completely free, so they don’t have to pay anything for phones.

That’s just the ability for them to use their own phones. Get your own cell phone, your own home phone, or whatever it is. You just dial the actual voter. And then all you are doing is using our survey on the screen to enter the data into the system.

John Tsarpalas: So it comes up on their computer with the name of the person and the survey. They are just dialing by hand with their phone.

Chris Littleton: That’s correct. So our system’s not making any dial. There is no sophisticated technology here. Nothing is happening. It is old school person-to-person phone call. That’s all it is. That is free.

John Tsarpalas: They are clicking off what is responded on the computer.

Chris Littleton: That is correct. At least the data is getting into the system with every single conversation. So that’s sort of the low-tech version.

We do offer the ability for our system to make the phone calls for you. There are two options there. One is our phone system will call any phone number back. All you need to do is basically stay on the line of that respective office phone, home phone, cell phone, or whatever it is, and enter the answers as you speak with the person.

Then you can also plug a mike and headset into a laptop and the system will make the calls for you. In that case, you can pre-upload voicemails and it advances to the next caller on its own. The system is a little bit faster.

John Tsarpalas: So let me interrupt you. So you are saying it is dialing for you and you do the talking. The script is there on the screen and then you can click off what happened.

Chris Littleton: That’s exactly right.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. And then it goes to the next one. And in the case where no one answers, but it is a voicemail system, you push a button and it will leave a pre-recorded message. It allows you to move on more quickly to get to the next person.

Chris Littleton: That’s right. And then of course the efficiency here for the campaign in particular is that the targeting of voters occurs in the system, the phone calls occur in the system, and of course the data that’s coming is happening in real time.

Just like we talked about on mobile at the door, the same thing is happening with the phone calls. It’s appending your database so all that information is available for you right then and there as the phone calls are being made. And then of course they are trackable, too.

John Tsarpalas: Right, okay. So you’ve got people making the calls and you are tracking it. It can dial for them or it can be the old fashion way where they have phone numbers in front of them. But you know your volunteers are making calls for you because again it is trackable.

One of the things people would say to me is, “Can I make these calls from home?” Years ago I would tell them, “It’s much better if you come in so the whole group knows what’s going on.”

The other thing that would happen is they would go home and you wouldn’t know if they made the calls or not because you would have to wait for them to bring the list back with the data, which would happen in a week or two. If we were lucky, it would show up before Election Day so you could get it into the database.

This way you can assign people a call from home. Although it is fun to call in groups because you can have contests and they have a group camaraderie.

Chris Littleton: Absolutely.

John Tsarpalas: Again, for calling in groups, they would just need to bring laptops and set-up in the room. The program is calling for them. It’s fun and exciting. We’ve done in many campaign headquarters. So that’s fun.

I know you guys also get into some other levels for your system. You track money and donations and things as well.

Chris Littleton: You can. So the other areas that are covered (I know we are not here to just talk about every single one of these, but just to kind of rattle off a few) are the mobile walk lists and the integrated phones. We also do touchtone surveys. So if you want to test a quick issue, just blast sort of a thing.

John Tsarpalas: Oh, so you are saying a robo-call so to speak. It can blast out.

Chris Littleton: That’s right. It’s a robo-call and says, “Do you support the repeal of Obamacare? Press one for yes. Press two for no. Press three for undecided.” You can bring that data back into system and append it to the actual voters and households as well. So that’s something that is available.

At events, the mobile system does allow you to capture people who would not even be registered voters. You can search for people in the system on your phone, but if they are not there- maybe they are from out of district and they are still a supporter or potential donor- you can bring them into the system.

Yes, you can track donations. In fact, if people donate online, we have certain online integrations. Eventbrite is a good example. You have an event. It’s ticketed. You have people buy their tickets online. Each person that comes in buys a ticket. They come in directly from Eventbrite, are appended to the Voter Gravity database, and their donation (the cost of the ticket) is captured right then and there. You can match it back to the voter record.

Same thing with multiple online donation platforms. So, yes, it tracks all of that stuff. So it’s face-to-face, phone, automated calls, and then even online interactions with surveys, petitions, event tickets, contact forms, and mail list sign ups.

It is intended to be a comprehensive campaign management tool that deals exclusively with voter contact, interactions with real people and the tracking of that data.

John Tsarpalas: Wow. It does a lot. It really covers a whole lot of things where years ago we had separate systems for them. We used something like CallFire to do the calls. We were doing walk lists through other systems or the RNC system back in the days of Voter Vault or whatever that was.

There were just different systems. We tracked the donors somewhere else. It makes sense that it all gets into one system because then you can integrate it and keep track of it and make it all happen.

Chris Littleton: Yeah, for all of the users, it is at the end of the day, on the backend at least, a pretty simple database. So if you need to identify all of the people who have donated or identify all of the people who support your candidate or wanted a yard sign- whatever it is- you can export those people to a simple spreadsheet anytime you want, 24/7. You do it on your own. You don’t need us for it.

If your mail house needs that list or somebody needs it for another reason or if you just want to share it with somebody for some reason, it’s your data. It’s available to you 24/7. This is our client’s system. They own this data. It’s there.

John Tsarpalas: So this is all sort of cloud based?

Chris Littleton: It’s a hundred percent cloud based. That’s correct. So we can scale up to however many users are needed. We autoscale. The cloud’s wonderful for that. If we see that there’s a lot more people coming online, a new instance in the cloud takes just a few seconds to spin up. And then it can accommodate the additional capacity for more phone callers or more walkers or whatever it is happening.

John Tsarpalas: Let’s talk about something that has happened to me in the past. That was on Election Day, the systems got overloaded and/or we came under attack literally I believe. It was a system denial attack, where they bombard our system with incoming so that it overloads it. How do you protect against this?

Chris Littleton: There’s basic security and firewalls. It’s the nice thing about using a cloud service like Amazon. Quite a bit of this is protected by them because they have class A security.

And they have to, right? If Amazon is getting hacked and bombarded, that creates a huge market problem for them being that they are the largest cloud provider in the world right now.

So we certainly rely on a lot of their security. But then we have our system segmented off into different pieces so that even if somebody could hack one, it would be very difficult to hack two or three or four or five pieces.

So the architecture is built in a way that makes it compartmentalized, so to speak. Data is held in one place and not another. Users have access to one piece and not another. Reporting is in another place and not another.

So, yeah, we do account for those things. On Election Day last year, it wasn’t a presidential election, so you don’t have quite the high profile races. But in 2014, we did business in 41 states and had a few hundred clients.

We over prepared honestly for Election Day, just not knowing what it would be like or how many users would be on the system. We never crossed ten percent of capacity on the system based on what we planned for. So 2015 will be at least at that level of planning. 2016 will be much larger.

So we are over planning intentionally. That’s one of the beauties of the cloud. We can do that now with great ease based on how the system’s been built.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, that’s important. This was pre-cloud days. I am trying to think; I was attacked in ’08 I know for sure. I had problems back in ’04, ’06, and ’10. So I just know there were times I couldn’t get through systems. They were just jammed and/or literally were attacked, which was my first experience with that and hopefully my last, but we will see. I just like to think ahead on it.

So, Chris, if people have questions how can they get a hold of you?

Chris Littleton: Sure, the simplest way is to go to VoterGravity.com. Put it in the URL. That’s what it is. If they want to see the system, there’s a demo page. Just request a demo and you can see it live. We will schedule you for some time during the week to check out the system.

John Tsarpalas: And for specific questions other than for Voter Gravity? If someone wants to get in touch with you just on basic database questions or something? If someone out there who is listening to this podcast who needs a little help, are you open to talking to them?

Chris Littleton: Yeah, the best place for that is support@votergravity.com. I see that along with our entire support desk. If it is something really easy, they’ll pop an answer to you instantly. If it’s more consultative in nature, they can push it to me and I can have that conversation with people.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, very good. Thank you very much. There’s a whole lot here to think about. These systems have become so sophisticated; they do so much. As we continue to build out this podcast, we’ll come back to voter databases. Especially as we get into Get Out the Vote and Election Day, we will again touch back on databases.

There are other databases out there to explore. We hope you enjoyed this. If you have any questions, people can email me at john@commonwealthy.com. Thank you, Chris. We will talk again some time in the future I hope.

Chris Littleton: Great. Thanks so much, John.

John Tsarpalas: If you are interested in getting a voter database for your campaign or your organization and you do check out Voter Gravity, Chris has made a really generous offer. The people at Voter Gravity will waive the set-up fee if you mention Commonwealthy.

Let them know you heard it on the Commonwealthy podcast and they will waive the set-up fee. You can type that into the comments box if you sign up for a demo or when you are talking to somebody live during the demo.

I love Voter Gravity. Friends of built it. Friends of mine own it. It’s a system I really think it well done.

Thanks for listening today. We’ll be back again next week. If you’ve got a moment, pop over to Commonwealthy.com. We have show notes there and transcripts. We’ve got all the links to everything we talked about here today.

I’d love to have you drop a little comment on the website or give us a review on iTunes if you’ve got a moment. Please pass on to your friends that we exist here at Commonwealthy.

This is a word of mouth thing. People who are interested in campaigns know other people that are interested in campaigns. We need to grow our audience and our community so that we can continue to support you. Thanks!

Chris Littleton: Yeah, that is a perfect example. In fact, there is a field in the dashboard that we want every client to use. I can’t say every client uses it; we just wish they would. It is vote goal.

They put in their vote goal and that vote goal should take into account the last three elections commiserate to the one you are running in right now. If it is a two-person race, you should consider fifty-percent plus one. So just shoot for fifty-one percent. That’s your base vote goal. If you really want to be aggressive, shoot for fifty-five or sixty percent in a two-person race.

That number is the only thing that matters. The number of doors you hit doesn’t matter. The number of phone calls you make doesn’t matter. The number of literature, mailings, and commercials doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except for your vote goal.

If you have not positively identified and cannot say with one hundred percent confidence, “This person is going to support me,” then you are behind the curve of what the left is doing now. Dems have been doing this for years.

They’ve never left the idea of retail politics, fieldwork, or face-to-face voter contact because they understand that is ten times more powerful than anything you can do with regards to any other service.

And all of those are important, right? Mail is important. Phone calls are important. Media is important. All of those are important.

John Tsarpalas: Sure, it’s all part of it.

Chris Littleton: But bang for your buck, nothing is better than having a human-to-human conversation with another person. Nothing is more important. You learn more about them. You build relationships. You can positively identify them as a supporter or not.

So you need to lock down that number. Absolutely you know on election night if you’ve met your vote goal. I’ll even take it a step further. We have an application within the mobile tool in our system. It allows you to mark those people off as they come in to the polls.

So per precinct, you show, “Hey, all of these people are our supporters. Great. I need to make sure they turn out.” As you see them show up or in some states they allow you to look at whose voted or they post whose voted publicly (same thing with early voting), you are actually going to mark off in real time who comes in and who votes. You make sure the campaign has that.

So you just click a submit button on your phone as those people come in. The campaign gets that back. If three people have voted and you are supposed to have seven people voting at that precinct, your campaign operation now knows they need to call the remaining four people and go, “Hey, you said you were voting today. We know you support us. When are you getting to the polls? Do you need a ride? How can we help?”

That is something that the left has done really, really well for years. Traditionally Republicans have kind of abandoned that type of fieldwork, an Election Day effort that we would call flushing or strike list at polls. It needs to be a lot more frequent than it is now.

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