Why Doesn’t Hillary Clinton Have an Army of Volunteer Techies?


That’s what San Jose Mercury News reporter Matthew Artz asked me last week. The question comes up because other candidates have, including Bernie Sanders earlier this year and Barack Obama in 2012:

Four years ago, Obama’s San Francisco technology office was buzzing late into the night with volunteer web designers and coders plugging away at apps to help his campaign reach every last voter and collect every last dime.

Clinton, by contrast, has no Bay Area tech office. Nor can she muster anything close to the volunteer tech force that Obama marshaled in 2008 and 2012 or that primary rival Bernie Sanders deployed against her this year.

My simple answer: enthusiastic techies are great to have, but they’re no substitute for a tech team that’s robust, organized — and paid:

“Any time you can tap volunteer enthusiasm, it’s good,” Delany said. “But anyone who has worked on open source projects knows how difficult it can be to keep volunteers on task.”

Let’s hear from someone who knows a lot more about it than I do:

Catherine Bracy, who ran Obama’s San Francisco volunteer technology office four years ago, agreed. She cautioned that such operations take a lot of effort to run and that their work “is not going to ever be the difference between winning and losing an election.”

Artz also includes a good overview of some of the excellent volunteer work that benefited the Bernie campaign, whose team profited from the enthusiasm of the more tech-oriented of his followers. He also covers some of the techniques they used to coordinate the work of supporters across the country:

Rather than meet up at a volunteer office, Sanders volunteers from across the country organized themselves on a Reddit community and collaborated with one another and the campaign’s senior staff, said Kenneth Pennington, who was the campaign’s digital director.

Volunteers built an application that turned rabid Sanders supporters into a grass-roots social media army delivering campaign messages to their friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Another volunteer built the campaign’s events page, which Pennington said was a big upgrade.

“Nearly all of our tech had some volunteer hands on it or help from volunteers that we ended up paying because of the ridiculous number of hours they were working,” he said.

Note that last point: volunteering is a common path to paid positions of all kinds on campaigns, since it provides an opportunity for people to prove their skills. But if a campaign doesn’t have that kind of zeal on tap, it can always substitute hard work:

“If there is less enthusiasm, then you have to work harder — and I suspect that is what [the Clinton campaign has] done,” said Colin Delany, founder and editor of Epolitics.com. “They went up against a candidate (in Sanders) with a very motivated base and showed they could still turn out their voters and win.”

BTW, Breitbart.com picked up the story a few days later, in the process framing that quote so that it put Clinton in an less-flattering light:

Clinton does have a team of several dozen full-time software engineers and data experts at her Brooklyn, New York headquarters to compensate for ignoring Silicon Valley’s best and brightest. Co-founder and editor of Epolitics.com Colin Delany commented, “If there is less enthusiasm, then you have to work harder — and I suspect that is what they’ve done.”

Subtle, eh? Journalism at its finest. My thanks to Tyler Gray for connecting me with Matthew Artz.

cpd

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