New mobile election apps mean pressure's on for local campaigns

New voter database technology allows federal party headquarters to put a lot more pressure on canvassing local election candidates, according to political scientists.

Conservatives, Liberals shift from clipboard canvassing to smartphone voter identification apps

NDP MP Laurin Liu spent time last summer canvassing her riding north of Montreal. While the NDP says its candidates and campaign workers will stick with clipboards on the campaign trail this fall, Conservatives and Liberals will use powerful new mobile apps to gather and process voter information. (Laurin Liu/NDP)

New mobile database apps to gather voter information will give political parties a faster, deeper look at voter sentiment during campaigns — and the power for party headquarters to put much more pressure on local candidates, say political scientists.

Both the Conservative and Liberal parties have rolled out new mobile database apps for door-to-door canvassers to use on their smartphones and iPads.

CBC News reported exclusive details Friday about the Conservative's new CIMS to Go app, also known as C2G, which connects to its Constituent Information Management System. The Liberals, meanwhile, have MiniVAN, linked to the party's Liberalist database.

With canvassers logging voter information updates after every door, the two parties are able to monitor the groundwork operations of local campaigns in almost real-time. The Conservative app is GPS-enabled to allow for more powerful tracking of canvassers' progress.

But according to Alex Marland, a political science professor at Memorial University, this monitoring will bring pressure to bear on local campaigns.

He said the parties are using the apps to push candidates and local campaigns for precision. There's no room for error anymore because the data is being entered while out campaigning.

"The old style of 'Let's go round with a clipboard and a pen and knock at doors' has kind of gone by the wayside. Now it's 'Let's do everything with bar codes and scan things,'" he told CBC News.

"There's a lot of pressure for people to be able to make sure they're adding information to that database. So they're constantly collecting it and they're constantly acting on it."

He calls it the overall "professionalization" of the local campaign.

At the moment, the NDP aren't using an app. They are sticking to canvassing with clipboard and paper.   

Apps ensure no houses, streets are skipped

Anna Esselment, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, said the use of the mobile apps for smartphones and tablets give greater control to the national party headquarters.

The only online mention to C2G, the Conservatives new database app, is a landing web page that requires registration and authorization to enter. (CBC)

"All this information has to be uploaded to this main database and people who are running the campaign can actually keep very close tabs on what candidates are doing or what they're not doing," she told CBC News.

Esselment said not too long ago, party headquarters would rely on the word of campaign managers for how smoothly a local campaign was running. She says parties would send someone to periodically check in on the local groundwork.

Not the case in 2015.

Esselment says the apps allow the party make sure the canvassers aren't skipping streets or missing houses. They can monitor and make sure a local campaign is doing what it says it is doing. 

Georganne Burke, a former Conservative regional organizer and current campaigner, confirmed to CBC News her party's app's local administrators can track each canvasser live via GPS. The Liberals say MiniVAN does not have GPS location-tracking capabilities.

"They can tell if a candidate is canvassing at the rate at which they want that person to canvass," she said.

"They have a better bird's eye view of what's going on, on the ground."


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