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10/6/2004
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Political Campaigns Get Technical

It's 7 p.m. on Election Day. You're about to sit down to dinner when the phone rings. You're first thought is to wonder why you didn't sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. You answer anyway. The person on the other end of the line cheerfully wants to remind you to get out to vote. You thank the person and hang up. You look at your watch, then your rapidly cooling meal. It's hard to think about meatloaf when the fate of the free world

It's 7 p.m. on Election Day. You're about to sit down to dinner when the phone rings. You're first thought is to wonder why you didn't sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. You answer anyway. The person on the other end of the line cheerfully wants to remind you to get out to vote. You thank the person and hang up. You look at your watch, then your rapidly cooling meal. It's hard to think about meatloaf when the fate of the free world depends upon what you do in that next hour.You might wonder how the caller knew that you haven't yet voted, or that you were even considering it. If you believe Dean Phillips, president of campaign management software maker Aristotle International Inc., political science and computer science are coming together in a big way.

IT is increasingly becoming part of campaign budgets, Phillips told me this morning. He should know; his company has been making campaign management software for the past two decades. Since 2000, IT specialists working for campaigns are increasingly getting a seat at the table when decisions are made, Phillips says. It's not likely that an IT manager will ever be on the same level as a campaign manger, but, increasingly, there's an expectation among campaign workers that campaign operations will use an IT infrastructure similar to those that exist in the business world.

Although he couldn't provide any hard numbers, Phillips says that the percentage spent on IT is greater in local campaigns because they would, in general, rather spend their money on technology than expensive television advertising. "There's no real way to say in general how much campaigns spend on IT, but IT management in campaigns is becoming more formal," he says.

There are 3,400 collection points for voter data nationwide, Phillips says. These include local voter registrars and the data is available in paper-based or digital formats, depending upon the region. Aristotle taps into all of them in order to provide its customers with a wide swath of data, from which they can figure out who will get their candidate elected. Aristotle's campaign management software uses a Microsoft SQL database and includes thousands of data conversion routines, Phillips says. The software can be used to categorize voters as active, not active, or deceased. This builds upon the raw data that Aristotle receives from the registrars and helps the company's clients, whether they're a political action committee or a grassroots organization, identify who they should be encouraging to get out and vote. The company also makes E-commerce software that can be set up to enable online campaign contributions.

Phillips says that 4,000 organizations are using Aristotle software for this campaign season and that, in several campaigns, opposing sides are both using the technology to gain some advantage.

I'm seeing a trend here. A few months ago, I spoke with David Brunton, VP of sales and marketing for Plus Three LP, a company that makes open-source fund-raising software. The Democratic National Committee, Plus Three's largest customer, is using Arcos technology to store and track campaign donors much like customer-relationship-management software does for large companies. The committee has on file about 166 million registered voters that it can use to target people who might be undecided or leaning away from the party, Brunton told me.

Call it CRM, or constituent relationship management. With all of this data about you floating around, should you be worried? Maybe you vote counts more than you thought.

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