It’s going to be a lousy day for Bernie Sanders field staffers and volunteers around the country as they sit down to their computers and find they can’t log into VoteBuilder, the campaign’s voter database. The DNC shut down access for the campaign’s all-important voter file yesterday after a Sanders staffer apparently took advantage of a breach in the database’s firewall to access Clinton campaign information.
NGP VAN, the well-respected and universally-used Democratic data firm that runs VoteBuilder, briefly allowed campaigns to see certain data from each other while installing a new patch. During that time a Sanders staffer reportedly pulled data from the Clinton campaign, and has since been fired.
This is big development in the Democratic primary race, and it will be interesting to see if most news media realizes it as such. Losing VoteBuilder even for a few days is a serious blow to Sanders’ campaign operations. Every staffer uses it multiple times a day to pull lists of voters, enter data, organize volunteers and do just about everything else associated with the caucus. Basically it’s the lifeblood of the day-to-day organizing efforts for much of the campaign. Some thoughts on this ordeal:
- First off, what a disaster for the Sanders campaign. To lose access to their entire voter database will throw their field operations into chaos just six weeks out from the Iowa Caucus. Unless call and walk packets were already printed out for the weekend, the campaign will be out of luck for the last prime voter contact time before the holidays. Good field organizers will have backups and most of their volunteers’ phone numbers saved in their phone, but remaining productive and organized without Votebuilder will be exceptionally difficult.
- What exactly did the Sanders campaign get access to? Was it just modeling data or Clinton IDs? The DNC or NGP VAN will probably need a third-party person to monitor what the Sanders campaign uploads into their files from here on out to make sure they don’t do anything with what they obtained.
- What was the Sanders campaign staffer thinking? When this story first broke in the Washington Post, the person in question who improperly accessed Clinton information was described by the Sanders campaign as a “low-level” staffer. At first that might make the DNC’s actions seem rather punitive if it was just some random field organizer in an early state who noticed some new options pop up in VoteBuilder and he decided to run a list for his county. But then Bloomberg reported that the staffer in question was actually Josh Uretsky, the campaign’s data director (Update: he claims he was simply exposing the breach and testing what Sanders’ data might be exposed). That makes a huge difference. Someone at that level should exercise some better judgement. One, for not collecting data from a rival campaign you know you got access to by a mistake. But two, for thinking you wouldn’t get caught. Anyone who’s ever had any type of administration-level access to VoteBuilder knows that every list you run is recorded in the system. A user higher up can see what kind of search you performed and what files you exported. Someone was going to find out.
- Did the DNC overreact? Shutting down VoteBuilder for one of the leading presidential campaigns is a big move (especially when many believe they’re biased toward Clinton), but the involvement of Sanders’ data director provides some justification. Hopefully all sides are able to move forward quickly and put this behind them. There’s fault to go around with NGP VAN allowing the breach in the first place. The DNC says it’s doing a full investigation into what occurred – it really shouldn’t take that long given what’s involved. Considering the records VoteBuilder keeps for what each of its users’ access, they should be able to quickly figure out who all did what. If the DNC drags their heels on this over the weekend then calls for bias will be warranted.
- What a whiplash for the Sanders campaign, just when they were having one of their best days of the year. Earlier Thursday Sanders received the endorsement of the Communications Workers of America and Democracy for America. They also announced they had reached their 2 millionth donor. And then to top off the night they had the DNC pull their entire voter database access. Fun day.
- NGP VAN needs to get their act together. You can’t have the data firewall come down between the two biggest presidential campaigns a couple weeks before Iowa. The Sanders campaign is being brutally punished for this ordeal, but it’s one they never should have gotten into in the first place. This is also why there aren’t any serious bipartisan data firms. Imagine if the Clinton and Rubio campaigns shared the same database and this happened.
by Pat Rynard