Change.org Launches Elections Platform Change Politics
Ben Rattray, founder and CEO of Change.org, told Civicist that the ultimate aim of the project is to undercut the influence of money in politics by emphasizing trusted endorsements over paid advertising.
Today, Change.org launched Change Politics, a platform where users can create a personalized ballot guide—based on endorsements by the people and organizations they follow—that they can take to the polls with them on election day. Ben Rattray, founder and CEO of Change.org, told Civicist that the ultimate aim of the project is to undercut the influence of money in politics by emphasizing trusted endorsements over paid advertising.
“The only reason [politicians] care about money is it will convert into votes in some way,” Rattray said. “If people increasingly base their vote on the opinions of people they trust, because they’re easy-to-access, right on their phone, right before they vote, and not on paid ads, then trust becomes more important than money in politics, and that’s the goal.”
Users can do several things on Change Politics: First, they can pose questions to candidates, and support others’ questions so that the most popular rise to the top. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Chris Christie, and John Kasich are among the first candidates to agree to respond to questions from Change Politics. Second, users can find people and organizations and see who they are endorsing and why, and write their own endorsements as well. Change Politics has already partnered with a number of national and state organizations, from Americans for Tax Reform to Everytown for Gun Safety, from College Republicans to the Marijuana Policy Project. Finally, before election day users can create a personalized ballot guide based on the people and groups they follow on Change Politics.
In some respects, Change Politics has a lot in common with Votizen, a now-defunct effort to make people’s voting choices and endorsements more socially shareable. (Votizen’s intellectual property is now part of Brigade.) But Votizen needed to create its user base from scratch. Change Politics is launching with Change.org’s 35 million users in the United States as potential participants in the platform.
Before the February 1 caucus, Change Politics will co-host a digital town hall, with the Des Moines Register, based on the crowdsourced questions for the candidates. Other media partners include the Concord Monitor, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and Town Hall Media.
Although Change Politics is launching just at the presidential level at first, by November Rattray said they hope to have worked their way down the ballot to cover everything from city council to school board elections. A 2015 Knight Foundation report on millennials’ voting habits found a lack of information about local candidates and issues to be a significant obstacle to voting in local elections.
“The goal is [to] turn low-information voters into effectively high-information voters through proxies of friends or people they trust,” said Rattray.
Organizations can use the platform to promote their interests and to demonstrate to candidates the influence they have on voters, which is all part of the Change.org plan to make trust count more than dollars.
“If you’re a candidate,” Rattray theorized for Civicist, “running for office, and you’re considering whether to raise twenty-five thousand dollars, or to convince someone with twenty-five thousand followers—whose endorsement will appear on the mobile phone of twenty-five thousand people who trust them before they vote—that trust is worth more than that money.”
When asked why they decided to launch an entirely new website, instead of building an extension to Change.org, Rattray explained that they wanted something tailored for the voting experience. “We just think that we want to be using the resources and the momentum and mobilization we’ve already got from Change.org,” he told Civicist. “But we wanted to optimize an experience specifically around the election.”
Before taking a position as senior technology advisor to the White House, the late civic technologist Jake Brewer led the Change Politics project at Change.org. Rattray told Civicist that even after moving to the White House, Brewer remained a close advisor to the project.
“He deeply believed in the importance of a more informed democracy and the potential of technology to shift influence toward trusted networks in politics,” Rattray added. “We hope the impact that citizens have using Change Politics can serve as part of his legacy.”