After robocalls went out on Election Day telling Pinellas County residents that “tomorrow” was the last day to vote, blame for the national embarrassment ricocheted from Largo to Santa Monica, Calif. At first, Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark pointed at CallFire Inc., the California-based broadcast messaging company she paid to remind 38,700 voters to return their mail ballots. CallFire CEO Dinesh Ravishanker shot back, blaming the debacle on the elections office and “human error.” But images of the CallFire program provided by Clark’s office, as well as interviews with election and county officials, now suggest the botched calls were caused by a combination of public servants’ blunders and CallFire’s hands-off approach.
Clark paid about $3,200 for CallFire, a company that Hillsborough’s supervisor of elections mentioned to her when she asked for a recommendation. Hillsborough doesn’t use the program, spokesman Travis Abercrombie said.
“I think they were looking for different call services, and it was one that we heard about,” he said. Clark didn’t research other options, according to her spokeswoman, Nancy Whitlock.
No one showed Marc Gillette, the Pinellas elections office IT director, how to use CallFire, Whitlock said. And the company didn’t assist him on Monday, Nov. 5 — the day before the election — when he logged on at 4:50 p.m. and scheduled the calls to run until 8 p.m.
Such a removed approach is common in the industry, said Matt Florell, the president and founder of Fextel Inc., a St. Petersburg-based company that routinely sends out robocalls for clients.
“A company like CallFire … you input your own call list, and you’re on your own,” he said. “There’s no hand holding, there’s no approval, there’s no validation.