New Tech to Save Democracy: The VoteMatrix Platform
If you’ve ever filled out a ballot, you already know how difficult it can be to find accurate information. Thoroughly researching the candidates and measures for even one election can take days. The internet is a vast source of information you can tap for this purpose, but sifting through it is far from easy. VoteMatrix arose to combat this problem.
VoteMatrix is a political information data aggregation and matchmaking application that will make voting easier and reduce the effects of propaganda. Mass adoption of this platform will result in an unprecedented reduction in the corruptive influences currently controlling democracy.
I was asked to write this article to accompany VoteMatrix’s participation in the Unrig the System Summit in New Orleans. Represent.Us, VoteMatrix, and many other anti-corruption organizations came together at this conference to collaborate on solving the biggest problems in government.
Most of these organizations are recommending tried and true methods to stop corruption: some are trying to increase transparency and accountability through media coverage and legislation; others want to re-establish regulations on wealthy campaign contributors; a few are focused on biased voter registration and administration policies; and activism groups of all kinds are fighting against the powerful and wealthy by making their causes visible through rallies and social networking.
Each of these groups helps to treat the disease of corruption in government, but none will eradicate it.
As a father of three, I am dedicated to creating a long-term cure for this disease. VoteMatrix is the anti-corruption medication I am developing. Instead of fighting the disease by treating the symptoms, this platform bolsters the immune system of democracy to systematically wipe out the infection.
By empowering voters with relevant and accurate information when they need it, we are building a stronger, more principled democracy while simultaneously eradicating corruption.
By now, you’re probably wondering how this will all work. Whereas this article will describe the growth and evolution of VoteMatrix as a platform and movement, it will not delve into the technical details. For those, visit VoteMatrix.com.
What follows is our story.
VoteMatrix was conceived during President Obama’s second campaign for presidency. I had spent several days researching the candidates and measures on my ballot and was fairly confident in most of my decisions, but the other few bothered me.
Many were local candidates with little to no information available online. Some of my guesses were based on party affiliation or solely on the statements in the voter information guide provided with the sample ballot.
I eventually decided to abstain from voting for these candidates because I didn’t have enough data to make an informed choice.
The decision not to vote on local candidates who would affect me more than their federal or state counterparts didn’t sit well with me. I wondered who was voting for these people and how they got their information. I quickly realized that most voters would use name recognition, party affiliation, word of mouth, or just toss a dart at their ballot.
Fortunately, the solution immediately came to me. We need a single source of aggregated, relational, and organized information -- a database.
It is not by chance that I came to this conclusion. I am a solutions architect, software developer, and database engineer by trade. I’ve enjoyed a long and successful career solving problems through the organization and development of information systems using web and database platforms.
For me, this idea was a logical step in a typical analysis and architecture scenario.
Over the next 5 years, the idea of VoteMatrix grew and took form. I designed the brand, developed the database and web services, founded the company, worked on application prototypes, attended hackathons, researched and tested election feeds, and explored voter information systems.
The idea grew to include a candidate/voter matchmaking algorithm, universal principle profiles, activism alerts, trusted analysis, real-time polling information, constituency feedback feeds, fundraising, and open platform architecture.
I started working with supporters who could help me build out and populate data in the system, but quickly realized that the scope of this platform was far beyond what a few developers and analysts working in their spare time could produce.
I needed more supporters and more resources.
Revolution to Fix Democracy
For an entire week prior to the election of President Trump, I rallied in front of the Sacramento State Capitol to kick off a new movement called the Revolution to Fix Democracy.
The goal of this movement is to recruit supporters to use and help us build out the VoteMatrix app and support other similar technologies and related legislation. The movement focuses on the specific failures in democracy that VoteMatrix is designed to fix.
These 3 failures are: Voter Information (#VoteSmart); the Two-Party System (#MoreThan2); and Accountability (#RepresentUs). The power to fix these issues comes through voter participation in elections and activism efforts.
The best way to fix problems in a democracy is through its voters. Citizens have the power to change government, but only when they are well informed and organized.
Voting is also the most difficult path to change because you have to outperform heavily funded (mis)information campaigns. The optimal way to organize voters is through a web based political principle information platform like VoteMatrix.
Easy access to accurate and relevant voter information will undermine the effect of campaign contributions and allow the best candidates and measures to win elections.
These issues struck a chord with our supporters and allowed the Fix Democracy movement to gain steam with limited effort. We now have over 700 supporters on Facebook alone in the Sacramento region and are beginning to gain supporters across the nation and on other platforms. Now that the movement has started, we now need funding.
Prior to kicking off the Fix Democracy movement, I crunched the numbers to see how much funding we’d need. Unfortunately, it was way more than our budget allowed for: at least $1 million, preferably more.
I had 3 options: obtain a large loan, court a rich investor, or seek funding from the people.
The first option was by far the worst. A large loan requires a product that currently generates revenue and wouldn’t expand our investor base.
The second option is the easiest. Rich investors throw money at similar companies through combinators, angel networks, and word of mouth, but are typically looking for a quick profit from an IPO or selloff of the company. This would mean dealing with an investor more interested in money than the goals of the platform and eventually being bought out by a large corporation.
While the benefits of the platform outweigh the disadvantages of control by wealthy individuals and corporations, it would expose the company to manipulation and ultimate failure.
I decided the final option was the best; equity crowdfunding is the term coined by those in the business of businesses to describe this type of investment.
Equity crowdfunding refers to any offering where many people purchase shares in a private company. While this sounds like an easy win-win option, there are many gotchas.
Investors of this type will be taking on relatively more risk than those with large amounts of cash to spare. There are also strict regulations on investing which rig the system of corporate startups for rich investors.
The SEC maintains regulations that restrict the participation of early stage investments to those wealthy few who have over $1 million in liquid assets.
Fortunately, I discovered my now favorite piece of legislation, passed during the Obama administration, the JOBS Act (Jumpstart our Business Startups Act). This legislation allows for non-wealthy individuals to invest in startups.
This was serendipity at its finest: a revolutionary technology, using a revolutionary method of funding, which would bring about a revolutionary change in democracy.
We now just need investors, and lots of them.
On New Year’s Eve 2017, I kicked off the VoteMatrix Founding 1,000 investor phase at a rally in Old Sacramento. The Founding 1,000 is more than just equity crowdfunding, it's a commitment to build an institution that will wipe out corruption.
In addition to a small deposit and promise to invest in the company on 1/1/2019, applicants must also agree to uphold the VoteMatrix founding principles and agree to restrictions on stock transfers.
For example: an investor must be a person, not a corporation, and they cannot purchase more than 10 shares or up to 40 for employees. The restrictions are built to turn VoteMatrix into a democratized corporation (new concept), owned by equally represented individuals.
This method of startup funding ensures that the company will be incorruptible and will not support further wealth inequality.
So this past weekend I was at the Unrig the System Summit in New Orleans writing this article and talking with like-minded individuals who are fighting the same disease. We all need to work together to treat the sickness and develop the cure. I am helping out from the technology side, which is what I’m best at.
If you are reading this, please join with us by sharing this story with your friends, following and sharing our posts on your favorite social network, messaging us with suggestions or endorsements, or applying to become one of our Founding 1,000.
I look forward to changing the world with you!