Days before the election, Deborah Charles reported for Reuters on November 2nd, how poll watchers were "becoming as much a part of elections as voters and precinct workers."
State laws permit poll watchers "to ensure a fair election," but the intent behind the secretive "Orca Project" seemed to be a multi-state effort to spy on voters in order to inform "get out the vote" teams in the places where Republican candidates were in danger of losing on Election Day. In other words, instead of just watching, Orca Project volunteers may have been working to influence it.
The Reuters article noted that "some voting-rights advocates and others are questioning whether such monitors could become an intimidating presence that leads some people - namely minorities and the elderly - not to vote, and slows down the voting process for others."
"Some of the observers are credentialed by local governments to monitor the election from inside polling sites and will be allowed to challenge the right of people to vote. Some are lawyers representing the presidential campaigns and their parties, looking out for any irregularities that could be cited in a legal challenge of election results."For months now, the Romney campaign has been putting together a high-tech voter monitoring operation to use on Election Day that will identify which of their committed supporters have voted -- and then corral those who haven't," Margaret Warner reported for PBS on November 5th, a day before Election Day 2012.
'You can be just as harmful outside as inside by creating disruptions,' said Eric Marshall, of the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law. 'We shouldn't be having bullies creating disruptions or intimidating voters at the polling place.'"
In a column titled "Romney's fail whale: ORCA the vote-tracker left team 'flying blind'," Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns reported for Politico on November 8, that the "mega-app for smartphones that would link the more than 30,000 operatives and volunteers involved in get-out-the-vote efforts" had been "created and managed by the Romney campaign and was kept a secret among a close circle in Boston, according to POLITICO sources."
"It was supposed to be incredibly efficient and allow the campaign to streamline, from its War Room at the Garden in Boston, the efforts to maximize turnout of Romney backers," Haberman and Burns noted. "State officials were kept in the dark about exactly how it would work in the lead-up to Election Day, and there was never a dry run that included early voting, said one of the sources."
Politico linked to a November 8th post at the Ace of Spades HQ blog written by John Ekdahl, Jr., a conservative who signed up with the Orca Project.
"The entire purpose of this project was to digitize the decades-old practice of strike lists. The old way was to sit with your paper and mark off people that have voted and every hour or so, someone from the campaign would come get your list and take it back to local headquarters. Then, they'd begin contacting people that hadn't voted yet and encourage them to head to the polls. It's worked for years."At Breitbart.com, Joel B. Pollack wrote, "As Republicans try to explain their Election Day losses in terms of policy, tactics, and strategy, one factor is emerging as the essential difference between the Obama and Romney campaigns on November 6: the absolute failure of Romney’s get-out-the-vote effort, which underperformed even John McCain’s lackluster 2008 turnout. One culprit appears to be 'Orca,' the Romney’s massive technology effort, which failed completely."
"A source within the Romney campaign," told Pollack that "Project Orca was supposed to enable poll watchers to record voter names on their smartphones, by listening for names as voters checked in. This would give the campaign real-time turnout data, so they could redirect GOTV resources throughout the day where it was most needed. They recruited 37,000 swing state volunteers for this."
Referring to the blog post at Ace Of Spades HQ, Pollack added that "Ekdahl describes how volunteers were expected to print their own materials, and were mistakenly not told to bring their poll watching credentials to polling places."
"Romney volunteers in Virginia confirmed that the campaign had relied entirely on Project Orca to turn out the vote in key areas such as Roanoke, where Romney and Ryan had made appearances. Volunteers who had driven to Virginia from safely-Republican Tennessee were shocked at the disorganization they encountered.In recent years, especially since the controversial 2000 presidential election, both parties have been using poll watchers to do more than watch, but the Orca Project seems like it was intended to go even further.
While the Romney campaign waited for Orca to function as planned, the Obama campaign had placed signs outside every one of the city's thirty-three polling places, and was fully staffed with two volunteers outside each polling place, and a strike list volunteer inside, all day long from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The best that the short-handed Tennessee volunteers could manage was 40% coverage of polling places; the local GOP, they said, had relied entirely on the campaign's centralized Orca system in Boston to turn out the local vote."
"There was, in fact, massive suppression of the Republican vote--by the Romney campaign, through the diversion of nearly 40,000 volunteers to a failing computer program," Pollack concluded.
On November 16, Wonkette's Rebecca Schoenkopf blogged about an unsubstantiated claim that "Anonymous had stopped Karl Rove from hacking the election by hacking Orca," and added "we think" to the headline.
Although anyone can claim membership in Anonymous, the "Anon2Rove" video which "warned" Karl Rove before the election wasn't released by any of the unofficial but recognized sub-factions. It was uploaded to YouTube by someone using the name "Charlene Zooz" who opened the account on October 22nd, and hasn't even signed back in since that date.
"Oh cool, Anonymous (we think it is Anonymous?) says Karl Rove was gonna vote fraud all the Machines, and that’s why he was so flabbergasted and refused to believe it when Fox called Ohio for Bamz, but they stopped him from stealing all the Machines by jamming up ORCA, because it was not actually a GOTV system but a 'steal the vote' system, but they stopped him, we are pretty sure that is what the following letter, which we guess is from Anonymous probably, says. Seems legit! But here is our question! If Anonymous hacked ORCA and caused it to explode miserably on Election Day, how could Anonymous ever prove that ORCA was actually a vote-thieving program? If they hacked in, couldn’t they have planted code to make it look like Rove was gonna fraud the election? (Not that we believe for a second that Rove wasn’t trying to fraud the election, we are just saying, it seems like 'logic.')"Former Democratic operative Neal Rauhauser - who has spent the last two years trolling and harassing conservatives and even liberal critics [including me] - has claimed responsibility for many political hoaxes, in the past, and appears to be one of the driving forces behind this one.
But whether or not the Orca Project failed, its intention may have been in violation of laws in many states regarding elections and regulating poll watchers.
Ohio Election Law 3599.24 [A] Interference with conduct of election states that, "No person shall...[l]oiter in or about a registration or polling place during registration or the casting and counting of ballots so as to hinder, delay, or interfere with the conduct of the registration or election." "Whoever violates division (A)(1) or (2) of this section is guilty of a felony of the fifth degree. Whoever violates division (A)(3), (4),(5), or (6) of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree," Ohio Election Law 3599.24 adds.
Since both major political parties use poll watchers and also operate and regulate the elections at state levels, alleged violations are usually routinely winked at, and hardly ever investigated. Even the FEC and FBI tiptoe around alleged violations, since it's a political mine field. While many supporters of losing candidates grumble and blame voting fraud by the winning side, the Democratic and Republican parties generally try to keep their distance, and only push for investigations if out-and-out violations can be proven.
The media is always quick to mock grumblers, and conservative SuperPAC honcho Karl Rove was ridiculed for what was referred to as a "melt down" during the Fox News 2012 Election Day coverage. The LA Times called it "sublimely weird television," but many conspiracy theorists on the Internet point to it as proof that the Orca Project may have been subverted by the so-called "Protectors."
An article at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, written by Director Mike Shecket notes that, "An examination of the laws in the 28 most competitive states in this year's election reveals a wide variety of approaches to the question of who may observe the voting process on Election Day."
"...Some state statutes are quite permissive in that they allow virtually any member of the public to enter a polling place to observe as long as they are not engaging in certain prohibited activities. For example, Section 7.41 of the Wisconsin Statutes is entitled 'Public's right to access' and provides that '[a]ny member of the public may be present at any polling place for the purpose of observation of an election, except a candidate at that election.' Other statutes are highly restrictive, listing only specific persons who may be present, generally the voters (sometimes for a limited period of time), election officials, and possibly law enforcement officers. An example from this restrictive end of the spectrum is Section 3-1-37(a) of the West Virginia Code, which reads in part: 'Except as otherwise provided in this section, no person, other than the election officers and voters going to the election room to vote and returning therefrom, may be or remain within three hundred feet of the outside entrance to the building housing the polling place while the polls are open.'Ohio Election Law 3501.35 No loitering or congregating near polling places [A]  states, "During an election and the counting of the ballots, no person shall...[l]oiter, congregate, or engage in any kind of election campaigning within the area between the polling place and the small flags of the United States placed on the thoroughfares and walkways leading to the polling place, and if the line of electors waiting to vote extends beyond those small flags, within ten feet of any elector in that line."
In Ohio, other than voters casting their ballots, only election officials, employees, witnesses, challengers and police officers are permitted to enter the polling place. Ohio Rev. Stat. § 3501.35. In Ohio, a challenger is a person selected by a political party or group of five or more candidates who is allowed to observe all election proceedings while the polls are open. Witnesses, on the other hand, are only allowed to be present for the counting of votes after the polls close. Both challengers and watchers are required to take an oath of office. Ohio Rev. Stat. § 3505.21"
"Except as otherwise provided in division (C) of section 3503.23 of the Revised Code, no person who is not an election official, employee, observer, or police officer shall be allowed to enter the polling place during the election, except for the purpose of voting or assisting another person to vote as provided in section 3505.24 of the Revised Code," Ohio Election Law 3501.35 [B] adds.
Poll watchers working for the Orca Project may have violated Ohio election laws - and perhaps laws on the books in other states, as well - since they seemed to be focused on affecting the national and state election results, instead of just watching for fraud.