VERO BEACH, Fla. — “You see some signs people are holding?” Hillary Clinton asked.
Around her, a crowd of 1,500 waved the same paper placard in the air, replacing the campaign’s usual “Stronger Together” signage with a new phrase. “‘I Will Vote,’” Clinton read aloud. “Now, that’s not only a great sign that shows you’re committed to vote, but it’s a website...”
The sales pitch might have seemed like a quick aside to voters at Clinton’s rally in Raleigh on Tuesday, which was also National Voter Registration Day. But the invitation to visit her campaign’s webpage, IWillVote.com, is part of a three-month ongoing effort inside the Democratic nominee’s Brooklyn headquarters that, in the span of Tuesday alone, resulted in a total of 64,000 new voter registrations — a feat that laid bare the significant gap between Donald Trump’s bare-bones operation and the field program that Clinton and her hundreds of aides have been building for some 17 months.
Clinton has said her campaign has set a goal of registering 3 million new people to vote. Tuesday’s 64,000 count does not include the voters the campaign has registered online on other days, or through its field program on the ground in the battleground states, but the nationwide Voter Registration Day push, outlined by a campaign official late Thursday, provides a snapshot of the capabilities of a highly organized operation.
Inside headquarters, the newly enhanced IWillVote.com is considered a significant improvement on the party’s existing technology. The Democratic National Committee built the website ahead of the 2014 House and Senate elections, one of the party’s worst cycles in recent memory. The first iteration of the tool amounted to a one-stop shop where voters could find information about their state’s registration rules and dates.
Two years later, in July, the Clinton campaign began a major overhaul of the site.
The rebuilt version allows voters to go step by step through the registration process in every state, allowing the campaign to see how much of the registration process each voter completes, and follow up individually with the people who started but did not complete the form. From Tuesday’s drive, the official said, Clinton operatives now have the ability to identify and contact an additional 120,000 people who began registering.
The effort also featured events across the country and what the campaign described as an “aggressive” push across platforms from surrogates and celebrities, including singers Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, Hollywood fixtures Shonda Rhimes and George Takei, and the president himself, who joined Ryan Seacrest’s popular radio show to help promote the website and its Spanish-language counterpart, VoyaVotar2016.com.
The coordinated effort resulted in 292 million “earned social media impressions” over the course of Tuesday, the campaign official said, and continued into the week. (On Thursday, two days into the registration drive, one of Clinton’s most enthusiastic celebrity boosters, singer Katy Perry, tweeted in all capital letters, “HOW MANY MORE FUNNY THINGS DO WE HAVE TO DO TO GET YA TO THE POLLS NOV 8TH?!”)
The campaign’s tech department, staffed with about 70 people, is led by a former director at Google, Stephanie Hannon, who recruited members of her team from Silicon Valley. A 10-person voter and volunteer-focused team within the department, known internally as the “Voter Agile” team, worked on the registration project through the summer and early fall, building out the various features on the website — tools that allow users to request to vote by mail or encourage their friends to register. (The Voter Agile team is also responsible for a polling place lookup tool and online call tool.)
Clinton does not speak with natural ease about the world of technology, often spelling out her website URL or SMS sign-up number for crowds as if addressing something vaguely foreign. (“Go to ‘Hillary Clinton Dot Com’ or text ‘Join’ — J-O-I-N — to 4-7-2-4-6 to get involved!” she says slowly.) But the 68-year-old candidate, known for an attention to detail and penchant for exhaustive preparation, does appear to delight in her campaign’s exacting field program and attempts at even the slightest advantage.
Aboard her campaign plane on Thursday, as she took questions from reporters, Clinton could not help but mention another one of the tech team’s recent projects — a “college calculator” that allows voters to see how much her student debt plan might help them save. “I love my college calculator. I hope you all will write about it again!” she said.
Clinton has also shown a heightened attention throughout this campaign, her second presidential, to the organizing philosophy her manager Robby Mook has made a trademark. In the primaries, she tailored her events, her schedule, even her remarks, to a strategy aimed at building an organization of passionate volunteers to help get out the vote. (“One of the things I learned last time is, it’s organize, organize, organize,” she said last spring in one of the first interviews of her campaign.) It was the field program in Iowa that delivered the narrow victory she needed badly in those first caucuses.
Through the general election, Clinton has remained committed to the strategy, making a point of speaking directly to voters in ways designed to boost the state field programs — and often doing so with an incredible specificity not often seen from candidates.
This summer, at a rally in West Philadelphia, Clinton not only urged voters to register to vote — she personally instructed them from the stage on how to sign up (“the deadline for registering is Oct. 11”), where and when to canvass (“we have packets for you at the door so you can also canvass, meet your neighbors, canvass across West Philly after this event”), even relating the address of a nearby field office opening (“52nd and Cedar!”).
During the primary, Trump’s campaign did little field organizing to turn out supporters through phone calls or voting campaigns, instead relying on the candidate’s command of the media. (At one rally in West Virginia, around the time he secured the nomination, he even told a crowd of 13,000 that they needn’t bother voting in the state’s primary.)
The approach did not change significantly once Trump began the Republican nominee. His campaign has relied almost entirely on the organizing efforts of the Republican National Committee. As late as August, it was unclear where exactly Trump’s campaign was headquartered in North Carolina — a key state where the Clinton campaign has run ads and focused a large share of the candidate’s time.
Earlier this month, the RNC announced it would open about 100 more field offices to support Trump. And their voter registration website, Vote.gop, has allowed the party to track 50,000 people who completed the first phase of their form and more than 300,000 Trump donors who had not yet registered, according to Fox News.
Still, for Clinton’s team, organizing remains an area aides speak about with confidence.
“One thing we’re really good at,” Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri told reporters this week, “is the ground game.”
This story has been updated with more information about the RNC's voter registration website.
Ruby Cramer is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Ruby Cramer at email@example.com.
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