I learned quite a bit while researching my May Campaigns & Elections column about Democrats’ list management practices. I talked to IT Directors for state and local parties and what I learned was discouraging. On the other hand, it made me feel better about Virginia.
The software that the DPVA uses (named “Prevail”) is ill-suited for its application, and really needs to be replaced, but the party’s data practices are great. The DPVA’s IT Director, Brenner Tobe, works hard to make sure that the data in the central database is as current and as accurate as it can be. This is accomplished by working with campaigns, to make sure that their data gets back to the party database, and by working with localities to get them using the same system. What worries me is the localities that are not properly using Prevail, which hinders both those localities and candidates who would benefit from that data.
One local party, which I won’t identify, is a fine example of how not to use Prevail. Because of the limitations of the software, this locality is using their own software to manage their lists, which is certainly understandable. But they’re doing it wrong.
Strike 1: The software is based on Microsoft Access, and, unlike the use-anywhere Prevail, can only be used by an individual sitting at the computer on which it is installed. District and precinct chairs are, consequently, out of luck. They can’t look at or alter the data, meaning that the people with the best knowledge of the area’s population — who’s a Democrat, who’s a Republican, who needs a ride to the polls, who will put up a sign, etc. — are prevented from recording that data so that it can benefit the party.
Strike 2: The substitute software being used by this locality has no concept of a “precinct” or a “district.” So if a precinct or a district chair needs a list of who’s in their district (which is the #1, no-questions-asked, single most important thing for a chair to have), she must provide the locality party’s chair with a list of the name of every street in their precinct. Well, not every street, because that’s too much trouble. Just a list of a bunch of streets. That list is used to extract a bunch of names from the database, though it cannot limit the lists to only the portions of the streets within that district or precinct.
Strike 3: Synchronization of data between the locality’s Access-based list management software and the DPVA’s Prevail is delayed significantly. While the Kaine campaign was gathering voter information, data was available to everybody the moment it went as it went into Prevail. Any data gathered by this locality, on the other hand, sat on their own computer until such time as they exported the data to the DPVA’s system. Candidates unlikely enough to need to campaign in this area will always be behind.
I know a district chair in this locality. She’s been trying to get the list for her district for six months. She still has no idea of who lives in her district, who is willing to volunteer, who will put up signs, or whether who is a Democrat, who is a Republican, and who is an independent. She’d like to have a district picnic, but she can’t figure out to whom she’d send invitations.
Good candidates, good policy, smart strategy — these are all important elements in winning campaigns. But good lists trump all three. We Democrats don’t deserve to win back Virginia if we can’t even list the members of our party. Here’s hoping some of these localities will listen to the DPVA’s Brenner Tobe and get their act together.