Narwhal – The Obama Election Machine And How To Do It Right


With the utter failure of the GOP voting apparatus, along with the new accusations of vote manipulation using the Orca system, one should study and understand the opposing system enacted by the Obama campaign, code-named Narwhal.

In 2008 the Obama campaign has tried a similar get-out-the-vote coordination system using the internet, code-named “Houdini,” which failed spectacularly under the heavy load to Orca on election day. The failure of Houdini prompted the Obama campaign to bring development of its replacement Narwhal in-house. After all, a contracted firm had no real care after the election so, should a system fail, very little could be said, as they had already collected their money.

By bringing development in-house, with redundant cloud-based servers, the Obama team approached a variety of top end computer developers who had worked for companies as varied as Twitter and Google. The directive they gave one, chief technology officer Harper Reed, when hired was as direct as it was simple:

“Welcome to the team. Don’t fuck it up.”

The team put together a system, but more importantly, they tested it. On October 21, the team enacted a full-scale Live Action Role-Play (LARP) of the system, with the goal to make it completely crash. They put in scenarios where they lost one of their two redundant cloud clusters, anticipating disruption from Hurricane Sandy. By the time election day had rolled by, Narwhal was not only ready, it was rock solid.

By bringing in people who previously had developed platforms handling millions of people at the same time, and the focus on redundant, scalible solutions through the Amazon Web Services, Narwhal was everything Orca wasn’t. It was not an application, it was a solution. Many at the Obama camp were perplexed when the Romney camp announced Orca, calling it an application for smartphones. They also were humored at the choice of the name, with the Romney camp calling the Orca the only predator of the Narwhal. A quick check will tell a very different story:

In a race between a narwhal and a killer whale (Orca) who would win?

The narwhal would win. However, when the narwhal is caught unawares the killer whale will win. The orca would over take the narwhal and ram it head on, knocking it unconscious. Where upon the killer whale will eat the narwhal.

In other words, not a predator at all, but a competitor. Obama’s Narwhal was anything but caught unawares, so it was Romney’s Orca which wound up being brought down.

Because the Obama team was freed from the financial incentive, they were able to focus on the real job, the re-election of President Obama. The workers were well compensated, but they worked for a job well done. By comparison, Orca was developed for a far higher pricetag, and the result was that the contractors hired for it did not deliver, but still collected their paychecks. Contrary to GOP claims of money, or capital, being the end in and of itself, Narwhal, designed not for financial game but to get a job done, proves what many in the open source community have said for years, collaborative effort to a goal many times is more capable than working for a paycheck.