On November 30, 2012, the Office of eDiplomacy within the State Department's Bureau of Information Resource Management convened its ninth Tech@State conference, Tech@State:ElecTech. The event focused on the important and expanding role of technology on democratic elections and the electoral process both domestically and internationally. Over 50 experts from within the U.S. government, U.S. presidential campaigns, social media companies, international non-governmental organizations, non-profits, and academic institutions convened to speak on this subject.
In a welcoming address, Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, discussed various State Department initiatives on international elections and offered thoughts on how technology and innovation have impacted that work. Baer stated that fundamentally, technology aims to reduce the transfer cost of information and subsequently, that the amplification of voice and choice in elections via technology inherently broadens democracy. Baer also noted that, "...There's still enormous potential for technology to change the way in which people interact with the election process both in this country and around the world."
He concluded with a challenge to the audience: "...As we think about specific technological improvements, one of the things that we can challenge ourselves to do is to think about how to make the translation from specific technological improvements to a sustained level of trust in democracy beyond a single election day."
Responsible for administrating elections and with the title of "Chief Elections Officer" for her state, Missouri Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan provided the keynote presentation. She began by stating that elections are not about technology, but rather public confidence in the electoral process and the results. Reflecting on the vast intricacies and complexities of elections, Carnahan argued that, "...elections are a miracle and even more miraculous, is that people generally still have confidence in the results." She stated that technology can help improve public confidence by increasing public participation, improving election administration and enhancing transparency. Citing specific technological advances from Missouri, she talked about the creation of Missouri's first statewide voter registration database, and using crowdsourcing to quickly review death records in order to make appropriate adjustments to voter registration records.
Following the keynote address, a panel on the digital strategies of the U.S. presidential election reflected on their own experiences and observations from the 2012 election. Nicknamed on the Twittersphere as the "political tech nerd dream team," the panel included digital directors from both the Obama and Romney campaigns and senior representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The panelists discussed the differences in campaign digital strategies from the 2008 and 2012 election and highlighted the various technological advances in their respective organizations. Their insights showed the importance of real-time awareness, effectively utilizing colossal amounts of data and how social media is used by campaigns to listen and respond to voters.
The remainder of the day included a panel on how technology is being utilized in elections in emerging and new democracies, and breakout panels that focused on how specific technologies are being utilized in various aspects of elections and the electoral process. Topics included electronic voting technologies, mobile technology in elections, and the usage of social media to engage voters.
Andrew Rasiej, the founder of the Personal Democracy Media, concluded the first day by reflecting on all the discussions that occurred throughout the proceedings. Finishing his closing keynote, Rasiej stated, "We are going from an era of e-government to we-government...as a tribe, we are not only building a better democracy, but we are building a better world."
The second day of Tech@State: ElecTech was an unconference held at the National Democratic Institute. Participants created their own agendas, further considered issues presented during the first day, and explored topics like the mechanics of internet voting and utilizing open data for elections and data visualization.
Tech@State, a component of Secretary of State Clinton's 21st Century Statecraft Initiative, is a series of quarterly conferences, curated and run by the Office of eDiplomacy in the State Department's Bureau of Information Resource Management.Designed to connect technologists to the goals of U.S. diplomacy and development through physical and virtual networks, Tech@State brings together leaders, innovators, U.S. diplomats, other government personnel and academics for a two-day interactive deep-dive to explore ways to incorporate new technologies and tools into diplomacy and development. Learn more about the Tech@State series by visiting our website and following @techATstate on Twitter.