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September 18, 2005

Is the Washington State Democratic Party Operationally Competent?

Kayne McGladrey, chair of the Fifth District Democrats, reports on a recent meeting of the State Democratic Party Technology Committe, where he received some not-all-that-shocking revelations about the way the party's master database (the "Voter File') is managed.

We have a very nice Technology Director who doesn't have authority to make design changes to the Voter File. He's not on the Executive Board. This is the same as a technology director at a major corporation not being invited to the table when business decisions are being made. He's also the Chair of the Technology Committee, which must ultimately be frustrating.

The Party owns the data and is responsible for updating the data. This sounds fine as a concept, except that Washington is a big State and there's less incentive to update the whole State at a time, because it costs time and money. Instead, voter file updates are targeted to areas of strategic importance. These are areas with established Democratic representatives. I don't live in one of those areas. Eastern Washington doesn't live in one of those areas.

The Voter File is -- or at least should be -- the single most important asset that the State Democratic Party has.  It's the ultimate place where all information collected during their long hours of doorbelling and phonebanking needs to be stored.  And the most important places to have great data are in swing districts (like the 5th!) where a strong field effort can make the difference between victory and defeat.

I'm not a Democratic Party insider like Kayne, but I've long suspected that this kind of operational incompetence was rampant at party central in Olympia Seattle.  The fact that the grassroots "face" of the party -- PCOs, District Chairs, etc -- aren't allowed to update the Voter File suggests more than just bad business decisions by Paul Berendt and company.  It speaks to a philosophical problem of not valuing the grassroots of the party, of not valuing field campaigning, and of not wanting to make the unsexy back-office systems investments that actually win close races.

Posted by Jon Stahl on September 18, 2005 at 08:24 AM in Strategery | Permalink


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In house management of a voter file is never easy, nor does it save as much money as people think it does (vs. working with a professional data vendor).

It's tough too, to manage who adds what, because the last thing you want is to have so many people adding "data" not always verifiable or correct, to the file. That's not to say "grassroots" people don't know their precincts - but at the same time the truth is, not all "PCOs" are equal, and most aren't even that active.

Either way the party is in a tough spot, no matter what they do. Not everyone is going to be happy. However, to be honest WA Dems have one of the few state chairs that does not aspire to run for office, and has served a long time - most party chairs only serve a year or two, and turnover is rampant amongst staff. WA is one of the few states with any stability, and while our Chair may not be perfect, he's also one of the few that has stuck around through many election cycles.

Posted by: Greg Dewar | Sep 18, 2005 5:29:33 PM

This is an area where the Republicans do much better than the Democrats. And in the 2004 election, the Republicans made the most gains in voter turnout by targeting the places where Dems are in the majority. In Republican-minority areas, potential Republican voters have little peer influence to get to the polls, but with targeted prodding they will, producing the greatest effect from prodding voters to get to the polls. Bothering the die-hard Dems like me (I received numerous reminders to vote last year) is a waste of time.

Posted by: Steve | Sep 19, 2005 4:46:35 PM

Be very careful about throwing around terms such as "institutional incompetence," unless you have a magic wand that you can wave to make everything all right.

I work with this data, and doing so certainly does not lead to such glib assertions.

Posted by: Ivan | Sep 20, 2005 8:55:16 AM

I meant "operational incompetence," sorry. But I know all the players, and obviously you don't, or you wouldn't use that term.

Remember that this process is evolving rapidly in many ways.

Posted by: Ivan | Sep 20, 2005 8:58:19 AM

Without spilling the beans on some of the issues with the voter file (this IS a public forum after all), there are serious problems.

Ivan: maybe "operational incompetence" is too strong a term, but you've got to admit that all is not paradise with the voter file. As to "evolving rapidly", I'm not seeing it, and I'm pretty well exposed to the process. The problem is that you have a well intentioned committee chair who doesn't have the power to affect the change needed. There also must be a well defined agenda for those meetings, or else they'll devolve in to complaints over RFC 2254 or whatever bellyache of the day.

I agree with Kayne -- no need to splinter our efforts. Let's get a state-wide system that satisfies 80-90% of the requirements. No system is perfect, but let's fix what we've got rather than re-invent the wheel county by county.

Posted by: Aneurin | Sep 20, 2005 11:31:37 AM

Kayne and I are on the same committee, in constant contact, and in agreement on what has to be done and what has to be done first. OK?

Posted by: Ivan | Sep 20, 2005 1:01:51 PM

I just printed my phone list for a north Seattle precinct, and noticed that the '04 election is still not listed.

I hope that the resolution that is being drafted will address some of the fundamental problems that prevent things like this from being dealt with. A system like the one we want is extremely complicated, but you have to take the first step.

Here's hoping.

Posted by: Chad Lupkes | Sep 20, 2005 5:05:07 PM

I've long suspected that this kind of operational incompetence was rampant at party central in Olympia.

What about the operational incompetence of bloggers who don't know where the state party is headquartered?

Posted by: ffaristocrat | Sep 20, 2005 9:25:00 PM


Touche. Sometimes the fingers are faster than the brain. But then again, I'm an amateur, with few if any pretensions of competence... nor an editor.

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Posted by: Marilyn | Apr 30, 2007 8:46:05 AM

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