When Bill Daly volunteered to work on a friend’s 1972 campaign for the Hawaii legislature, he never dreamed that it would mark the beginning of a new career. An experienced computer designer and holder of a master’s in electrical engineering from MIT, Daly had moved from Massachusetts to help run another friend’s business venture. When fortunes turned, and the company went bankrupt, Daly declared himself an “executive dropout” and swore off office work.

While considering what to do next, he joined his friend’s campaign, took one look at its voter lists and immediately recognized an opportunity: He may not have known the first thing about politics, but he knew he could produce better lists. Daly began developing software to manage voter information, and Voter Contact Services was born in the solarium that he used as an office.
A 1974 conversation with a friend whose brother had just been elected to the Colorado state Senate as a Republican got him thinking about how computers could take on an even larger role in campaigns. In an attempt to get the most out of the candidate’s face time with voters, the Colorado campaign had visited precincts based on their ranking in terms of Republican registration and turnout levels.
Daly recognized the potential power of such precinct ranking when combined with individual voter selection criteria—and saw how, once computers were engaged in this task, they would change the way campaigns were run. He set to work on software that would facilitate sophisticated targeting by precinct. The business grew steadily, expanding from its base in Hawaii to serve campaigns in Colorado, California and Oregon as well.
To refine his system’s targeting ability, Daly added new information to his voter database so it could select voters based on any combination of personal characteristics and voting behavior. He added census information, phone numbers from a national directory and ethnicity based on a dictionary of last names. He even experimented with mathematical models to determine information such as family structure. (It was still the 1970s, but he was already microtargeting.) Then he wrote polling software that provided random samples and allowed for sophisticated clustering and comparisons of the sample with the universe from which it was drawn.
Daly was a pioneer not only in managing and analyzing voter data, but also in means of delivering service. He created an online “bulletin board” system in 1985 that allowed customers to access summary statistics and also to place orders via modem. When the Internet arrived, Daly was one of the first in the campaign world with a website.
Daly was long determined to keep the business at home in Hawaii and developed a relationship with the postal service that allowed for twenty-four-hour turnaround of most orders. However, as the business became more and more national, he opened offices in California and Massachusetts. Voter Contact Services continues today with offices in California and Honolulu and has a database of 181 million voters representing all fifty states.
For the last three years, Bill had suffered with complications from post-polio syndrome. On November 11, 2010, he passed away in Hawaii surrounded by family. He is survived by his wife, Betty, three daughters and four grandchildren. He will be greatly missed.
Glenda A. Hughes is the president of Voter Contact Services.