Trends in 2016 election technology

Web description: Advancements in technology have taken elections beyond fundraisers, debates, and polling booths. Serial entrepreneur Brian Hecht joins Hari Sreenivasan to talk about trends in election tech.


Advancements in technology have taken elections beyond fundraisers, debates, and polling booths.

Here to talk about trends in election tech is Brian Hecht, our resident serial entrepreneur and advisor to many digital teams, including our own.

So, each election cycle, in each election, we say, 'Oh, it's the digital age.

Are these campaigns really competing?'

There's, as expected, a new fleet of technologies, platforms, apps that are coming up to help the campaigns figure us out and turn us out to the polls, right?

So, let's start with one.


Yeah, Polis is interesting.

Polis is -- they call themselves 'Waze for elections.'

Waze is that GPS app.

Waze is the GPS.

It's like Google Maps.

It's owned by Google.

And what people may not realize is that door-to-door door-knocking, canvassing in the neighborhoods is one of the most effective ways of persuading voters both to make up a decision and to come out to vote.

Some people say 15% to 20%, right.

It's like the Avon lady.

So, what Polis does is it not only figures out the ideal walking route, which a lot of map apps can do, but it melds that with voting data.

So, not even just what your party registration is, but they are now collecting and aggregating data on who slams the door in your face, who is open to changing their mind at the last minute.

And they use a sort of very sophisticated algorithm and aggregation of data.

So while your canvassers are going and knocking door-to-door, they're also inputting information about the feedback that they get.

So, on the Waze app, I say, 'Hey, there's a wreck up ahead,' and I press a little button.

I guess on this app, I'd say, 'Well, this person's kind of open to changing their mind.

Maybe somebody else should knock six weeks from now.'

That's correct.

They will give you the, you know, sort of the wording that you should use for a given person given their concerns, and it'll even tell you -- it'll adapt the routes based on what kind of location you're in.

So, in New York, they know that people don't like to cross avenues, so they'll keep you on one side of the street.

In Florida, they know there's a lot of gated communities, so they will route you either around them or keep you in the gated community.


NationBuilder is another one.

They are kind of a one-stop shop for campaigns.

If you think about it, running a campaign is a very complicated affair.

You have to have a website, you have to have registration lists, donor lists, accept fundraising, do polling, and things like that.

They have a new service, which I found fascinating, called

And what this does is, if you area civic-minded individual and you're thinking about getting involved by running for office, you go in, you type in your address, your exact address, and it will tell you all the offices that are available for you to run for, all the way from governor and senator, all the way down to dog catcher and mosquito-control board.


And I did it.

You know, I found out that, you know, I was available to run for City Council.

But it even told me I was, you know, eligible to run for governor of New York.

Unlikely to do so, but good to know.

And it tells you how many signatures you need, what the deadlines are.

And then, of course, that's good for them, because, you know, you sign up, you figure out what you're gonna run for, and then you use the platform.

And GroundWork.

GroundWork represents an interesting phenomenon, especially at the presidential level.

So, presidential campaigns, technology gives them such an edge that they don't necessarily want to share their technology with other campaigns.

So they sort of develop arm's-length companies that help them deliver their technology they need.

So, GroundWork is a company that's actually funded by Eric Schmidt...

From Google. Right.

...who's the executive chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

They're very data-heavy.

They will help drive, sort of, you know, what is the messaging on a fundraising letter?

Should it start by saying, 'Hey, there, it's Hillary,' or 'Hi.'

You know, it can make a huge difference.

They will decide where the media buys should go.

There's sort of an interesting angle here, which is that this is a way for Google, effectively, to sort of have a work-around, almost like a super PAC, to donate talent to the Clinton campaign by running this startup, whose only client is the Clinton campaign, which is very interesting.

It also addresses a key challenge, which is that hiring engineers for a campaign is very difficult, 'cause engineers are in great demand, and they don't want to take a temporary job that only lasts for nine months.

So they'll go work for this company that then outsources them to the campaign.

All right, so, how much of an edge is there in this?

I remember covering the last cycle between Obama and Romney.


Well, there are estimates that -- there was a four-point margin between Obama and Romney in that election, and there are estimates that 2% -- 50% of that margin -- came from a technology edge.

It's not a new phenomenon.

I mean, we remember, in 2004, the Howard Dean campaign sort of kicked this off back then.

It was Myspace and things like that.

But it has become so important now that a significant percentage of campaign spending, whereas it just used to go to media buys, is now going to these technologies -- sometimes directly investing in startups or indirectly investing in startups, or just investing their operating capital in the services of startups.

All right.

Brian Hecht, thanks for joining us.

My pleasure.