Identifying Friend or Foe

Given how often what’s said on the campaign trail bears so little resemblance to votes cast on the House or Senate floor, it’s become a full-time job holding our elected officials accountable. Stakeholder groups will spend hundreds of hours tracking bills and legislative voting records to generate candidate ratings every year, and some even pay professional lobbyists to provide those services. To what end? Simply to help identify friend or foe.

Voter Science has provided tools in the past to track bills of interest through the legislature, but we’ve found that the data entry required to tag bills that an organization supports or opposes can be a significant barrier to entry. Folks simply don’t have the time to maintain these lists because they’re too busy trying to work the halls of the state capitol and advocate for their positions with members one-on-one and in committee hearings. Fortunately, since 2014 we’ve had an online committee sign-in system for public hearings that’s a public record of positions that individuals and organizations have taken in support or opposition to every bill that’s been granted a hearing. In fact, at the beginning of the 2022 legislative session there were exactly 322,706 records from such public testimony. With this public data, we already know which bills that stakeholder groups have decided to support or oppose, so there’s really no need for any tedious data entry. Moreover, our state’s Legislative Web Services provide the public easy access to member voting records, so we can now automate the entire process of determining how those voting records correlate to each organization’s public policy position.

Today I’d like to introduce you to my latest pet project, codenamed Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) after the transponder system used by our military to identify combatants on the battlefield. You can access it from my WhipStat prototyping site here:

http://whipstat.com/Projects/Advocacy

The user interface is quite similar to my Partisan Leaderboard page, where I display a stack chart for all members by chamber and date range. However, here the main Organization drop-down lists over 1,500 lobbyist employers registered by the PDC that were referenced from hearing testimony records. When you select an organization, an aggregated list of “bills of interest” will be displayed beneath the chart. This table includes the bill number, title, total number of references from the selected organization, number willing to testify, and the percentage supporting the bill, with “Pro” counting as 1, “Con” as -1, and “Other as 0. Note that I’m using a fuzzy matching algorithm to match the organization name entered in committee sign-in to the official PDC records, so they may not be perfect…but we’re getting better every day. Use this list as a quick sanity check to ensure that your organization’s testimony records have been aggregated accurately.

The horizontal axis of the stack chart show shows the correlation between member voting records and organization position for each bill. Members who always vote the organization’s position will have 100% correlation and those who always take the opposite position will have -100% correlation. The dots for each member are color coded by party and if you hover over each you’ll see a tooltip with each members information and their actual correlation coefficient. To save a tab-delimited “leader list” of the member scores that can be imported into Excel, you can simply press the Download button.

Note that I’m currently collecting additional information that could potentially be used to further weight these scores (but that would make them less than a true Pearson correlation). Here are some examples:

  • A stakeholder’s willingness to testify or whether they’ve travelled from out of town
  • Committee votes made by members when advancing the bill to the floor
  • Committee leadership that could be positioned to advance or kill the bill

IFF is obviously a work in progress and we would welcome any feedback you have on our current user interface or algorithms. Since committee sign-in data now must be obtained by formal public records request, our plan is to update this tool at the end of every session, but if more frequent updates would be valuable to legislative advocacy groups we should encourage the Legislative Service Center (a.k.a. LegTech team) to incorporate the sign-in data into the Legislative Web Services, where it probably belongs.

We at Voter Science hope that IFF can usher in a new era of transparency for state government, freeing stakeholders and lobbyists from the tedious process of generating their own candidate rating systems and holding elected officials more accountable for their actual voting records when they inevitably come asking for campaign donations. It may seem obvious, but up until now it’s been surprisingly difficult to know who your friends in Olympia really are.

Early stats on WA Aug2020 primary

Votes in Washington State’s primary earlier this week are still being counted, but here are some results so far [as of 8/6/2020]. Data here is publicly available from the Secretary of State.

Turnout was around 37%, which is up from 34% in 2016.   

There was a competitive field of GOP candidates running against a 2-term incumbent Democrat. Here were the results of the top vote getters. The top 2 (Inslee and Culp) will go on to the general.

Aug2020_GovResults

Here’s is a further breakdown of GOP candidates per county. Circle size is weighted per county population.

VS_p20recap__gov_R_piePop18_co_804_all

Here’s the combined Democrat (Blue) vs. Combined Republican (Red).

VS_p20recap__gov_RD_piePop18_co_804_all

 

 

Measuring a Candidate’s Independence

Who are the most and least “partisan” candidates for WA statewide office?

Often, these sorts of conclusions are argued subjectively in opinion articles based on a candidate’s issue-positions and their endorsements.  However, we wanted to ignore the opinions and go straight to the data to draw the conclusions.  We used only official public data and all results here are repeatable and could be independently confirmed by following the process we detail below.

Continue reading “Measuring a Candidate’s Independence”

Case Study: Handling the MN GOP Convention

This article is a technical case-study for how Voter-Science’s services handled a high-traffic event: the Minnesota GOP State Convention on May 30th.  The MNGOP was clear that it was absolutely critical for the site to keep up with the surge in traffic and stay fully responsive during their event. The event was successful. There were surge periods hitting over 1000 requests/second to our servers, and the servers averaged responses in under 100ms.

Here were the engineering steps we took to provide the MNGOP that guarantee…

Continue reading “Case Study: Handling the MN GOP Convention”

Sampling Voter’s Opinions During COVID-19

How do voters feel about how Pres. Trump and Gov. Inslee have responded to Coronavirus? What do voters think about the closure of schools through the end of the year?

During the past month, Voter Science conducted two robodial surveys of registered voters across Washington state to poll opinions on questions around the COVID crisis and the response of national and state leaders. A total of 2,643 voters responded to a poll taken March 29th and 1,801 voters responded to our poll taken April 13th. We asked a set of tracking questions in each poll to gauge approval of Pres. Donald Trump’s and Gov. Jay Inslee’s handling of the Coronavirus, and to find out what voters predictions were for how long life might be stuck in this “new normal.”
In addition to those tracking questions, in our April 13th poll we asked for reactions on two topical issues: how well are schools meeting the needs of newly homebound students and are voters happy about the newly enacted and highly controversial K-12 sex ed law. In both cases, we found a population looking for better leadership.
For additional insights from this research, or information on how we can help you use research to know voters better, please email us at info@Voter-Science.com.

Voter Science Collaborates with WSRP to Keep Party Business Moving During COVID-19

One month ago, the Washington State Republican Party realized that holding in-person legislative district caucus meetings and county conventions would not be possible. Yet, the election of delegates still needed to happen.

Voter Science engineers went to work quickly and in 7 days turned around a secure and “ready-for-primetime” tool to facilitate virtual balloting and delegate selection. The King County GOP was also instrumental in making sure our technology was run though its paces, and ran at least 10 mock elections in record time to run to iron out wrinkles before live elections began two weeks ago with counties reporting great success. More counties are scheduled to conduct their own delegate elections over the next few weeks.

The collaboration between Voter Science and the WSRP on the use of political technology amid the COVID crisis made news in The Wall Street Journal:

As Washington state reels from the coronavirus pandemic, its local Republican Party has a backup plan in case it isn’t possible for hundreds of people to gather in June to pick delegates to the Republican National Convention two months later.

The state’s “virtual” convention plan, which it is already employing for smaller, local meetings, could be a model for the two national political parties if the pandemic lingers and disrupts their massive gatherings scheduled for August.…

Washington Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich said he realized by mid-March that hundreds of people couldn’t safely gather for local meetings to elect delegates for the state gathering, even though it had been delayed from mid-May to late June. He enlisted political tech startup Voter Science to quickly build a platform for voting, paired with Zoom videoconferencing for participants to interact…

Voter Science is proud to pitch in to keep the work of dedicated Republican activists going during this difficult election cycle. We’re committed to proving that we don’t need to make a choice between being safe and keeping our Republic functioning.

3 Things Voter-Science is doing to help during COVID

Here are some specific actions VS is taking to help during the COVID crisis.

[1] New tool for Remote Party Elections and Delegate Selections

Continuing to have a functioning political system through any crisis is of deep concern to us at Voter Science. Voter Science is working hand in hand with the state GOP and county parties to solve the challenge of facilitating caucus voting and election of party leadership at a time when in-person meetings are not possible.

While there are solid remote conferencing tools like Zoom, UberConference, GotoMeeting, and FreeConferenceCall, there aren’t affordable remote election tools that handle the unique challenges for remote balloting such as complex bylaws with multiples rounds of voting and district weighting.

VS developed an online ballot system, VS QuickVote that can be used by county and state conventions and similar organizations for doing remote elections. Quick Vote extends our previous tool for building recommendation pages (ie, SlateBuilder) with the ability to vote on those candidates in primary and general elections.

 

[2] Help grassroots influence impactful COVID decisions

Our government is making bold COVID decisions which are impacting our daily lives. People can use our free petition builder platform to organize on issues and build lists for grassroots development on issues and not just party affiliation.

For example, in Washington state there is controversy around Gov. Inslee’s decision NOT to include private sector construction workers as essential businesses thereby ordering them to stay at home, while many tax-funded  government and union construction workers are still working.   A free petition was started to raise awareness of the issue:  “Construction Work Is Essential”  which got over 9,000 signatures in a few days in just one legislative district (nearly 8% of the district population). This greatly helps identify the people impacted by this decision and help grassroots and candidates organize a response.

Any candidate’s first task should be testing the waters with an online petition. If there’s an issue impacting you or your community and you need a voice, start your own petition at https://PetitionBuilder.org

 

[3] Need for more affordable solutions, especially for local elections

As the country faces a global pandemic and unprecedented unemployment, political donations naturally decline. Political campaigns need to find a way to make do on a smaller budget. VS has a large set of free and affordable offerings for campaign and voter management. Contact us or visit  https://Start.Voter-Science.com  to get started. We also share the source for our assets at https://github.com/voter-science, and even expose free APIs to integrate with our mobile canvassing.

Voter Science was founded because we saw that there has always been a major tech gap in local races, many of which are nonpartisan but in which progressive or center-left candidates benefit from a rich ecosystem of tech resources and data. Voters will be watching how their local officials work in the community to communicate needs and impacts of COVID – some officials will fail the challenge.

Our hope is that by providing affordable, scalable tools to smaller campaigns that aren’t partisan, we can improve the caliber of local leadership to address challenges like this that we have to be prepared to handle in our new future normal.