Conservative app puts voter identification in campaign workers' hands
Party canvassers are dropping their clipboards for a mobile app that puts more power in their hands
An unusually talkative Conservative staffer may have inadvertently helped CBC News glean exclusive details of a new mobile technology that will help Prime Minister Stephen Harper's team collect and sort voter information faster than ever before.
Conservative workers are already using a new smartphone and tablet-friendly app called CIMS to Go, or "C2G", as party members call it.
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CIMS stands for Constituent Information Management System, the Conservatives' powerful voter information database. Along with voter lists and door-knocking data, anyone who has ever donated to the party, agreed to a lawn sign or even filled out an MP comment card is captured in the system.
The new app lets party canvassers log voter information directly into CIMS as they move door-to-door, rather than wait to enter it at a desktop computer later.
But perhaps more importantly, it can give party organizers the opportunity for more accurate tracking of those canvassers' progress in battleground ridings — in the final days of a campaign, for example, when every minute counts.
CBC News first learned details about the app by calling the party's IT department and speaking to an employee who answered questions, after being told the call was from the CBC, including the cost to local campaigns.
"There are certain ridings [associations] that are approved to be able to use it, and then if they haven't been pre-approved, they do have to pay for it... It's $2,500," the staffer said.
When the IT staffer couldn't answer a question, CBC News was transferred to another employee, who said the conversation was a misunderstanding and referred CBC to the party's media spokesperson.
Conservative party officials have been reluctant to talk about C2G. Cory Hann, the party's communications director, would not confirm whether or not the app even exists, calling it an "internal party matter."
The app has almost no presence online beyond a simple C2G landing page that allows riding presidents, candidates, campaign managers and other administrators to sign up for the system.
Monitoring canvassers in real time
But Georganne Burke, a former regional organizer and community relations manager for the Conservatives, says the app was just released to local ridings a few weeks ago and the party is in the process of rolling it out across the country.
She told CBC News about some of the app's features.
When a canvasser goes out door-knocking, Burke says the app lets them see basic voter information from CIMS: names, addresses, party allegiances or past donations. Teams are expected to update information after visiting each house.
The app comes with a script to follow, to make sure canvassers know what to say at the door.
Burke says local administrators have access to more information from the full national database.
They can use door-knocking data to make graphs and compare the most recent polling numbers to see if they are reaching local targets. And for the first time, administrators can keep an eye on all of their canvassers in real time.
"There's GPS which allows you to know where they are in case anybody gets into trouble. They can signal you, they can text you, they can send you an alarm and you can send someone to help them," said Burke.
"It allows you to really know how your campaign is progressing."
Burke is working on a local Conservative campaign for the upcoming election — she wouldn't say which one — where she's been trained and is regularly using the app. As a past organizer, she thinks the app is a "tremendous asset" to the campaign.
"It's quite a step up for us in terms of being able to be more timely in our management of our information," she said.
Burke didn't know precisely what features of the app could be followed from national headquarters.
There's a Liberal app for that, too
The Conservatives aren't alone in tapping the power of handheld devices to ramp up their voter identification operations. Liberals too are using a mobile database app this election.
Olivier Duchesneau, a Liberal Party spokesman, says door-to-door canvassers have started using a mobile app developed for the party called MiniVAN, which connects to the Liberal database "Liberalist."
As with C2G, Liberal canvassers input voter data at the door. However, Liberals say MiniVAN does not have GPS location-tracking capabilities like the Conservative app.
Duchesneau wouldn't comment on exactly how the party uses the data it collects or how closely it is tracked.
However, he did say the party rewards local campaigns who are performing well with incentives.
"We can highlight their great work on social media — on Facebook, on Twitter — and give them thumbs up," he said. Parties sometimes let high-performing candidates use their national phone bank for free.
New Democrats still use clipboards
Since the technology is new, the parties say it's too early to know whether the app will give them an edge.
As for the NDP, it's not ready to make this switch just yet.
George Soule, an NDP spokesperson, says his party is still canvassing old school and inputting voter data into a computer one sheet at a time.
"We're still out there with canvass sheets and clipboards," he told CBC News.
"You know, a whole lot of technology might look fancy, but sometimes there's no reinventing the wheel."