Politico's Burns & Haberman explain:
[ORCA] was described as a mega-app for smartphones that would link the more than 30,000 operatives and volunteers involved in get-out-the-vote efforts. PBS profiled it a few days before the election. The app was created and managed by the Romney campaign and was kept a secret among a close circle in Boston, according to POLITICO sources.
It's been reported the system crashed at 4 p.m., but multiple sources familiar with the war room operation said it had actually been crashing throughout the day. Officials mostly got information about votes either from public news sources tracking data, like CNN.com, or by calling the counties for information, the source said. Officials insisted the day after the election that they had still believed they were close, and that they had hit their numbers where they needed to, even as Fox News and other outlets called the race.
The post links back to a Romney volunteer's description of how ORCA failed in the field:
On one of the last conference calls (I believe it was on Saturday night), they told us that our packets would be arriving shortly. Now, there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion about what they meant by "packet". Some people on Twitter were wondering if that meant a packet in the mail or a pdf or what. Finally, my packet arrived at 4PM on Monday afternoon as an emailed 60 page pdf. Nothing came in the mail. Because I was out most of the day, I only got around to seeing it at around 10PM Monday night. So, I sat down and cursed as I would have to print out 60+ pages of instructions and voter rolls on my home printer. ... They expected 75-80 year old veteran volunteers to print out 60+ pages on their home computers? The night before election day? From what I hear, other people had similar experiences. In fact, many volunteers never received their packets at all.
Now a note about the technology itself. For starters, this was billed as an "app" when it was actually a mobile-optimized website (or "web app"). For days I saw people on Twitter saying they couldn't find the app on the Android Market or iTunes and couldn't download it. Well, that's because it didn't exist. It was a website. This created a ton of confusion. Not to mention that they didn't even "turn it on" until 6AM in the morning, so people couldn't properly familiarize themselves with how it worked on their personal phone beforehand.
The project management antipatterns are apparent: Blowhard Jamboree, Smoke and Mirrors, Throw It Over the Wall, and basic Project Mismanagement, for starters. I haven't seen the code, but I can't imagine the management and deployment problems didn't lead to design and construction problems as well.
We software professionals have learned, through painful experience, that software developers have a better understanding of how to develop software than corporate executives. Go figure. Since Mitt Romney ran as a father-knows-best, authoritarian candidate, it should surprise no one that the people he hired couldn't run a software project.