Record levels of voter disenchantment with party nominees. Widespread anger at the party primary system. A race to the gutter in political rhetoric, accelerated by social media. Persistent chatter about rigged elections.
And even among dedicated voters, a nagging sense that the election process has spun out of control.
There’s little hyperbole in this summary of where things stand as the party conventions approach and the nation prepares to elect a new president and Congress.
Digital technology stands accused by some of fueling these unhappy trends. The indictment: Tech foments fragmentation of news and dialogue while increasing their velocity to breakneck speeds. This leaves voters bombarded and breathless, adrift in a cloud of nasty claim and counterclaim.
So, have ones and zeroes played a role in this stressful election year? Sure.
But here’s a far more interesting question: Going forward, how can civic tech help create a saner, more satisfying politics?
That’s the question being explored, with an attitude of hope, at an event on the first day of Democratic National Convention week in Philadelphia.
It’s called American Experiments. The free event will be held from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Monday, July 25, at the University City Science Center’s Quorum space (3711 Market St.) and its new Microsoft Innovation Center.
American Experiments is sponsored by the Science Center, Microsoft and the Committee of Seventy, Philadelphia’s better-government group, where I’m a consultant. It’s powered by support from the Knight Foundation. We hope you’ll stop by and taste the hope.
American Experiments will have two parts:
- A showcase of exhibits (10 a.m. to noon) by 18 of the top civic tech and political reform organizations from across the country, including FairVote, Democracy Works, Open Primaries, Voter, Crowdpac and Philadelphia’s own Code for Philly and Azavea.
- After lunch, at 12:30 p.m., a lightning pitch competition, in which six of those outfits will present their best idea for using tech to improve politics and elections. If you attend, you’ll get to take part in live online voting on which idea is most promising. Besides the crowd vote, a panel of judges from the civic tech and political reform worlds will pick its favorite.
The participants in the pitch event will be picked based on proposals they wrote in response to this prompt:
Imagine it’s the year 2024. After the discontents and chaos of the 2016 campaign, the civic tech community and election reformers worked hard to create new ways to improve campaign transparency and dialogue, to promote voter access and turnout, to make elections more competitive and fair. In 2024, signs of those initiatives bearing fruit can be seen across America. What project did your organization execute that played a significant role in one or more of those improvements? How did it work and what did it achieve?
The winning ideas will be featured in coverage by our two media partners for the event, Technical.ly and Governing magazine.
It’s been a chaotic and concerning election season. If you’re in the mood for a dose of disruptive optimism about where our democracy could be headed, join us for American Experiments on July 25.
Philly is where the American experiment began. May it be the place where it starts to get fixed.
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