I woke on Election Day 2012 with control of Barack Obama’s Twitter account. And Rihanna’s. And Ashley Judd, Eva Longoria, Donna Brazile plus several hundred other celebrities and Democratic Party influencers (not to mention hundreds of thousands of everyday citizens). Along with some friends, I’d built an app called Picswitch that made it easy to overlay graphics atop your Twitter and Facebook profile pics. The Obama campaign adopted it as their official campaign tool, and from there it was off to the races during the Fall election season. The way Twitter’s API permissions worked at the time, in order to sign into the Picswitch tool and allow it to change your avatar, you also had to grant the app the ability to tweet on your behalf. We obviously kept all of this software quite secure. But, still, wow.
Screenshots of Obama, Eva Longoria and Ashley Judd promoting the Twitter tool we build for the 2012 Elections
It wasn’t my first experience using simple tech tools to help people spread a message across social media. Earlier in 2012, we deployed a simpler version of Picswitch in the battle against SOPA/PIPA legislation. Nearly 90,000 people used that tool to reach tens of millions of their followers.
While I was proud to have a hand in these two efforts, they were both a step removed from what actually matters in elections: voting. So, for this 2016 election I decided to get out of people’s social media and into their startups.
This time I wanted to seek out CEOs and founders of tech companies who would be encouraging their teams to vote and proactively give them time off if necessary.
The TakeOffElectionDay campaign started about a week ago with some tweets (sidenote: this awesome website was made by two brothers who saw the beginning of the effort and ran with it). Since then, more than 100 companies have signed-up, including Spotify, TaskRabbit, Survey Monkey, Wikimedia and The Skimm.
While I might be partisan (#ImWithHer), this voter effort is not. For too long the tech community has been accused of apathy around social issues. I know this to not be the case from my daily interactions with passionate entrepreneurs. At the same time, young voters need their responsibilities as citizens and turn out to vote — in national, state and local elections.
Just as our industry suggests tech literacy should be part of every American’s skillset, so too should civic literacy be part of ours.
In setting up TakeOffElectionDay, I was surprised to learn that some states have no legal requirement for employers to allow time for voting. Others are a messy patchwork of paid/unpaid and various conditions. Even in states like California, which allows for two hours of paid leave at the beginning or end of a shift, we shouldn’t rely upon individuals to exercise their right in the face of passive or obstinate CEOs.
Let’s flip the script and have the CEOs inform their teams of their right to go vote — and encourage participation. That’s what we’re looking to do with this effort. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a swing state or not. Register and vote in 2016. Your voice matters.
If you’re a CEO or executive who wants to make sure their company is listed, please reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you’re an employee at a company, go ask your HR department what their plans are for Election Day. The TakeOffElectionDay website even has the ability to anonymously email an executive in your company to pose this question if you don’t feel comfortable sending the query directly.
Thanks and see you in November! (And if you want to support Hillary, I encourage you to please donate — every dollar counts this year to ensure there’s strong voter turnout.)