How Bernie Sanders could contribute to changing political campaigns

When the Green Party wanted to take over Canada in 2005, they put a lot of money and work into an open source software project, CiviCRM, which was built for managing voter data and running a data based campaign.

CiviCRM manages donations, communications, building walk lists, organizing events, tracking voter preferences and more. It also can be used to do case management for non-profits, or even run a School District’s student information system.

The Canadian Greens were working with an early version of Civi, and developed some very useful tools like the canvassing/walklist generator. Unfortunately, after the Greens took office, they never updated or upgraded their system to match the development of Civi. 10 years in software is like the technology changes of 50 years in cars and airplanes.

The CiviCRM project is still going strong, doing all kinds of good things for non-profits and small money politics. If Bernie Sanders truly believes in leveling the playing field, and making running for office more affordable for all, he would take some of his $15 million war chest- and put it toward two critical upgrades that need to happen to Civi- or even fork it-

  • A responsive backend interface
  • A mobile device integration for canvassing/data collection.

The cost to do this would be less than half a million, and could even include some needed UI improvements.

If he really wanted to transform politics, he’d build the ultimate database of every registered voter, with their voter history- which is already in the public domain- and geo-code every household and allow voters to opt-in to political email to help cut the costs involved in reaching them. If the database was really slick, it would also contain a list of every office you vote for based on your location/ward/precinct/district- and who is in it- complete with your local polling location and process for absentee vote baked in. Right now- it’s almost impossible for most voters to find that stuff out- and it could be improved by also putting the job description, salary and instructions on how to file and run in one centralized place.

The Obama machine built a system capable of running campaigns, but, despite promises of “Hope” and “Change” they kept their data to themselves- and the tools that make it possible to elect other progressive candidates. Each new candidate has to either buy into expensive proprietary systems from private companies like NGPVan, VoterVault (now GOP DataCenter), NationBuilder etc- or start from scratch.

Here’s a video by NGP Van to explain what these systems do:

Democratizing the tools/weapons of politics would be a giant start in the right direction. The amount of money to bring these tools online- from data importing, geocoding, and phone/email matching is an insane waste of money, and it’s done every cycle for every contested office.

Watching locals trying to organize without a handbook, a tool box and the data management tools needed to run a modern campaign is sad. Not giving them the keys to get a campaign running ahead of your own campaign is a tactical mistake, because enthusiasm can’t be put on hold, until you are ready- it’s gotta be there for when the voters are ready.

It’s time someone put their money where their mouth is in reforming our election process. Improving CiviCRM would help every small candidate be able to compete.

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