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by on July 30, 2018
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Local campaigns certainly need the digital expertise.

Upset about "everything" in the outcome of the 2016 election, data scientist Anela Chan wanted to use her tech skills in some way to make sure future elections turned out differently. A veteran of Tumblr now working at a large media company in New York, Chan hooked up with Tech for Campaigns, which calls itself "the digital arm for progressive and centrist campaigns." In 2017 she helped a Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates oust a Republican and this year is aiding a Democratic congressional candidate from Arizona.

"I  do a lot of pro bono work," she said, "but this is my favorite so far because I have the biggest impact."

The 30-year-old Chan is one of almost 1,400 people in New York with tech skills who have signed up with Tech for Campaigns to help close what is widely regarded as a digital gap between its candidates and Republicans in many parts of the country. New York isn’t yet one of those places.

Tech for Campaigns is building momentum in its goal to be the digital arm of the left. According to Jessica Alter, one of the founders. In early July it had amassed about 4,500 volunteers when a story about it in The New York Times led to almost 2,000 more signing on.

In classic tech think, Tech for Campaigns is designed to remove the obstacles to getting involved in politics long-term. It vets the campaigns and arranges specific projects, none lasting more than eight weeks. It sends opportunities to volunteers based on their skills and interests including where they live or hail from. Volunteers pick ones they want, are put on teams of three to five people with a team leader, and tackle the task.

Chan, for example, improved the texting campaigns of the Arizona candidate. "I use data to inform messages and optimize the campaign. For example, should texts include emojis and visuals?" she said.

Another New York volunteer, Jacob Hernandez, used his product design skills to help build a social media campaign for another candidate for the Virginia legislature designed to promote the candidate and motivate voters to like this social media pages, donate and show up to vote.

Tech for Campaigns concentrates on digital identity, marketing and analytics, digital media, and data science and engineering. It works on software only when it thinks the product will be widely applicable.

In 2018 the group is focused on campaigns for state legislatures, with about 25% to 30% of resources reserved for governor and state attorney general races and some U.S. House contests. "State legislatures are both ignored and insanely critical," Alter said, citing three reasons: "You have to control redistricting if you want to take back the U.S. House, legislatures pass laws that really matter to people, and legislatures are the bench" for a political party.

Tech for Campaigns is exploring whether it might provide help to any congressional campaigns in New York. (It is not working with Democratic umbrella organizations for the Assembly or state Senate.) There is clearly a need. The Delgado campaign to unseat Republican John Faso in the Hudson Valley has a couple of staffers doing its digital work. Calls to other Democratic campaigns failed to turn up any evidence of an infusion of talent from New York’s booming tech community.

Last week, Chan had just returned from vacation but expects to take on new projects for the fall, devoting her nights and weekends to Tech for Campaigns projects. Still, she insisted, "I manage to squeeze in a life."

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