Political Disruptors

August 2, 2016

This post originally appeared in US News & World Report, here.

Politics is in need of a makeover. The current party-controlled system has left us with elected leaders who aren’t representative of the people they serve and with barriers to entry that repel those who aren’t already part of the elite. People feel they have no voice, and this is especially true for the millennials generation. Millennials could have real power to affect elections, but they still don’t get out to vote or run for office in numbers that would make a real difference to the political status quo.

So it was refreshing to meet up with several groups at the Republican National Convention who are working to turn politics on its head and make it more accessible for everyone. These groups are using technology to open politics up, make it cool to the younger voter and get rid of barriers that keep youth disaffected and politically disengaged.

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The first is Brigade, which is working to create a social media platform like Facebook – but for politics. Brigade’s app allows users to explore their positions on policy issues and then share them with their friends. Even better, the app tells voters which candidates align with their positions, so that they can be knowledgeable when they go to the polls. Brigade is still relatively new, but as more people join it has the power to make politics cool and fun in a way that will get youth to the polls as informed and enthusiastic participants. During a quick chat at The Washington Post hub, Matt Mahan, the visionary behind Brigade, told me that the goal is not to further silo people into issue ghettos but to get people talking to each other about the issues of the day and what they believe, so that they can better understand the other side.

Where Brigade uses technology to connect voters and keep them informed, Crowdpac,the brain child of British political insider Steve Hilton, uses tech to make it easier for people to run. Fundraising is one of the biggest obstacles to running for office, and people who don’t come from wealth are severely disadvantaged when it comes to launching their campaigns. So Crowdpac has developed an online fundraising tool, like Kickstarter, to help people solicit campaign donations online. Mason Harrison, their head of communications, told me that the best part is that the app allows prospective candidates to gather pledges to weigh support, which become active when the candidate decides to run. Young people don’t give money to political candidates and so they have little influence on who is elected. Crowdpac offers the millennial generation an easy, familiar way to give to political campaigns. Combine this idea with Brigade’s more informed young electorate and we really might see some new people getting into power.

Democracy Works was also there spreading the word about their TurboVote app, designed to make voter registration foolproof and easy. This is good for everyone but could especially help millennials whose voter registration numbers have fallen steadily since 2008. The app takes away a major barrier to youth voting: Millennials move around so much during college and first jobs, and it can be time consuming and difficult to figure out how to vote absentee or register in a new place. TurboVote holds your hand and makes the process easy.

Combined, these new ideas have the power to really change youth engagement in politics. And they are not the only ones working to disrupt politics as we know it. The teams atFairVote and Representation 2020 are working to change our voting systems by encouraging rank choice and proportional voting, systems that many in the rest of the world use because they work better and produce more fair results. And groups like She Should Run, All in Together and of course my organization Running Start are working to break down the barriers that keep women, especially young women, from becoming political leaders.

It was important for these groups to be at the RNC because political reforms that target youth engagement are often dismissed as surrogates for the Democratic Party. Young people do tend to vote more on the progressive side, but getting millennials more informed and active will help create a more robust dialogue around politics that ultimately will help both sides. The growing number of under-40s who are registered independent is a sign that younger people want to be open to vote their mind rather than be told by a party what to believe.

I have always admired the disruptors. We tend to get complacent with the systems we are used to, and the disruptors remind us that we can and should strive for better. There is real hope that the future of politics will be something we can all feel good about.


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Susannah Wellford
founded two organizations to raise the political voice of young women: Running Start (which she now leads) and the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee. Susannah previously worked in the Clinton White House and for Senator Wyche Fowler. Ms. Wellford is a graduate of UVA School of Law and Davidson College. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her twins, Ben and James.

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