Political

Party looks to the US for new election database software

Excellent news from the Liberal Democrat Federal Executive (FE) this week with the decision to appoint a preferred supplier for a new election fighting computer database. Voter Activation Network, the US firm which services many Democrat Party candidates, has been selected with a view to signing a multi-year contract shortly.

Amongst the other bidders were the party’s long-running suppliers EARS (though they may still have a role to play as data suppliers, especially given the team’s expertise and experience in dealing with different electoral register formats).

EARS has provided a valuable service to the party for many years, but the old model of individual databases on separate computers has been overtaken by the development of web-based tools and the need for software that smoothly interacts with a wide-range of other services. I don’t know the full details of why VAN won out over EARS in the end, but I’m sure that VAN’s ability to invest millions in software development courtesy of the large US campaign budgets will have given it a significant edge over the much more home-grown EARS set-up.

The VAN product even as of a few years ago, when we looked at it during my time working for the party, was extremely impressive. For a variety of reasons matters did not progress then but, assuming that the contract negotiations proceed successfully, it’s a very significant step forward that’s been taken this time and the people involved deserve praise for that.

Since the last general election, I’ve done many events with former staffers from both the Conservative and Labour Parties, and from the bits of information you pick up at such events, it’s been clear that whilst the party’s IT set-up used to be significantly better than those of the other parties, it has in recent years fallen significant behind. (Michael Ashcroft’s book on the general election gives some details of how their IT setup benefited Conservative grassroots campaigns.) The need to modernise the party’s IT setup was one of the major conclusion of the Campaigns & Communications Committee’s general election review and it’s good to see that is turning into practical action.

Another piece of good news from the FE this week is its decision to support significant relaxations in the restrictions on campaigning in internal party elections, something I’d lobbied for. We’ll cover that in more detail later in the week.

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