Election Reform Now!

Election Reform Now!

On this day, as we face a federal government shutdown over the fight to protect Dreamers and restore CHIP funding, we are once again reminded of how badly we need election reform now. Our government no longer represents the will of the people. Instead it represents special interests and gerrymandered districts that crush moderation and compromise while supporting only the most extreme points of view.

Election reform won’t come from Congress. We have to fight for this on a state by state level. The good news is that change is possible. There is momentum building, but it needs real grassroots support in every state. In the coming year, I’ll be fighting for some very simple, but powerful reforms in my home state of Massachusetts. My 2018 election reform agenda is:

As I write up more detail on each of these proposals, I’ll link to the individual posts from the list above.  

In the state of Massachusetts, there are already bills moving through the House and Senate that could bring many of the above reforms to the state.  They need support from our Senators and Representatives, and that’s going to require a push from the electorate to show that we care about these changes.  

And this is increasingly true across the country.  Voters are finally starting to wake up to the importance of easier access to the ballot. We want to see reforms that address issues such as winner take all results and vote splitting between similar candidates that allow ideologues to win seats that further divide us.  
Continue reading

What is Ranked Choice Voting

What is Ranked Choice Voting

Our winner take all election process is broken.

It forces voters to choose between voting for the candidate who best represents their views versus the candidate that seems most likely to win. This blocks out third party candidates and lowers participation from an uninspired electorate. It splits votes among common constituent groups, suppressing minority and female candidates, and often results in winners with less than 50% of the vote from the extreme ends of the political spectrum.

Ranked Choice Voting addresses these problems. Instead of casting a single vote in an election, voters rank as many candidates as they like in order of choice. If no candidate has a majority of first-place rankings, the last-place candidate is eliminated. The voters whose candidate was eliminated have their ballots instantly go to their next choice. The process repeats until there is a majority winner.

Remember Bush versus Gore, and the impact Ralph Nader had on the results of that Presidential election? The spoiler effect in action. Donald Trump won the Republican primary with only 45% of the vote. In California, studies have shown that the use of Ranked Choice Voting significantly increased the number of women and people of color who have won elections.

Today, Ranked Choice Voting is used in 11 cities across the U.S. Grassroots efforts are building throughout the country, to expand this essential voting reform. We have an opportunity to change our state and federal election process from the ground up, state by state. Now is the time to throw our support behind these efforts, and bring Ranked Choice Voting to an electorate that wants to fix our broken system.

I’ve joined the Advisory Board of VoterChoice Massachusetts to help bring this important election reform to the 2020 ballot.  I’ll be writing more about RCV, so if you’re interested in learning more, you’ll find those posts here.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/5aRVjn

Terrified & Excited

I just met with someone I’ve worked with for the past two years who is moving into a new role. It’s a total career change for her, in a direction she’s been trying to work toward since we met. I’m super excited for her.

When I asked how she felt now that it was all coming together, she replied “terrified and excited”.

My immediate response was that this was a great place to be.  Maybe a notch below terrified would be ok as well, but in the end, I think we should all live more of our life out on the edge, always pushing into new areas of interest, always pushing ourselves beyond our current abilities.  I know personally that it’s time for a change when I’m no longer “terrified and excited”.  When things become routine, predictable, I can feel myself slip into a malaise.  There is no cure for this other than to find a new mountain to climb, to leap into the unknown and challenge myself once again.

Of course, the risk is always failure.  But to me that is a far lesser risk than boredom, of a life not lived to it’s fullest potential.

This conversation today was a great reminder of this simple truth.

Photo Source: Flickr

The Case for Automatic Voter Registration

Increasing voter turnout in the U.S. will mean addressing the obstacles that keep people from participating at each step of the process.  Currently in most U.S. states the first hurdle is getting registered to vote. Increasing voter registration is often difficult because it has to happen months before an election when there is less excitement and less motivation to take action. This may seem like an inevitable challenge of the democratic process but the truth is that voter registration is only an impediment to participation because most places require people to take action and opt in to registering. Making the process of voter registration automatic removes the first obstacle to voting, facilitates increased participation, and can help make sure that the voter rolls are more accurate and current.

The process of automatic voter registration (AVR) is fairly simple and basically what it sounds like; a person is automatically registered to vote when they apply for a driver’s license, or depending on the state, complete other state paperwork. In AVR states, when someone fills in the paperwork to get a license their information goes directly from the DMV to the election office and then they are registered as a voter unless they take steps to opt out. As of this summer, 10 states and DC have some form of AVR.

Continue reading

The Ideal Employee

Often when I get the chance to speak to a group of students, someone invariably asks me to describe the ideal employee. What are the traits of a prosepective new hire that I look for, and would give them the best chance of success?

In the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni, he describes the ideal team player as Hungy, Humble and Smart.  That’s my North Star when hiring people.  I’m sure that these traits are critical in any organization of any size, but they are particularly important in early stage companies, when every hire has an oversized impact on the companies performance and culture.

It’s worth spending some time on this concept.  Too many hiring managers are focused on specific skills and past accomplishments at the expense of these core characteristics, I’ve seen far too many times that oversight resulting in failure and far reaching impact on the organization.

Believe in the mission, not the path

This morning I saw this advice in a tweet:

Founders, don’t be married to what you’re building today, because it won’t be what u ultimately build.

I think this is very bad advice, and gets to the core of what’s wrong with entrepreneurship advice in general.  Entrepreneurship is a really hard path, requiring a ton of dedication, hard work, often over many years.  If you don’t have a deep commitment to the mission of your effort, to the problem you are solving, you’ll fold as soon as you hit a speed bump.

The right advice is that you should have true passion for the problem you are trying to solve.  You should have a deeply held believe that there is a gap in the marketplace that you can fill in a way that others can’t.

You should not be committed to the path to fulfill that mission.

Your path will twist and turn, and you will hit many dead ends, have to back track, and find another route.  Many of your assumptions will be wrong.  Your experiments will fail.  Your business will build slower than you thought. But the North Star of your mission should remain resolute.

With one rare exception.  You may come to a time when you find that your original assumptions around the opportunity were genuinely wrong.  Maybe competitors moved faster.  Maybe you didn’t have the right answer, and you now see that you aren’t well positioned to address the opportunity you saw.  Perhaps you didn’t understand the marketplace as well as you thought, and the opportunity never really existed at all.

That can lead to the infamous Pivot.  And a Pivot can be fine, when Pivoting to another opportunity you are deeply committed to.

But don’t go into your startup expecting to Pivot.  Go into it expecting to have to adjust your path regularly on your way to fulfilling your mission.  There is a huge difference between the two.  The advice in that tweet above missed that point entirely.

Ranked Choice Voting, Voting Splitting and the Impact on Third Party Candidates

Florida 2000 Presidential Election Results


A voting system is supposed to allow voters to choose their elected officials, not choose for them. But which election system is used can actually have a significant impact on who gets elected and who doesn’t. The plurality voting system currently used in most U.S. elections is subject to what’s known as “vote splitting” and the “spoiler effect”. This phenomenon has had unfortunate consequences for candidates and voters in a number of specific elections, and it also means that in U.S. elections in general third-party candidates are at a disadvantage. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) on the other hand empowers multiple candidates to run even if they overlap on some issues, because they can get high rankings from the same voters without worrying about splitting the vote.

Continue reading

My Principles of Entrepreneurship

There is no shortage of advice on what it takes to successfully build a business.  But I’ve seen enough bad advice to compel to me get my own thoughts down.  I’m sure this will be a post that evolves over time.  And each of these principles will eventually have it’s own post, so I can expand on the concepts.  With that, here are my thoughts on essential principles of entrepreneurship.

Believe in the mission, not the path

Set short term milestones. Keep your eye on your cash runway.  Prioritize execution against your financial and strategic plan.  Set quarterly, semi annual and annual milestones.  You’ll be surprised at how fast time goes by when you’re head down building your business.  You need to set guideposts so that you can pick your head and see if you are on track, or if you need to make adjustments.  Experiment.  Try new ideas, test hypothesis, discard your failures and lean into your successes.  ‘Move fast and break things’ is a valuable mantra in your early years.  ‘Just ship it’ should be on your wall.  It doesn’t mean you should race to release shitty products and piss off your customers.  It means that 50% of what you think your product should be is probably wrong, and the faster you validate your assumptions, the quicker you will get to Product Market Fit.  Which leads to…

Continue reading

Avoiding Complacency in blue Massachusetts

The need to focus on local politics and initiatives is found in the underlying statistics around the Massachusetts electorate. From this story in the Boston Globe:

Long before Donald Trump ran for president, significant swaths of Massachusetts were already prime Trump territory. In the 2016 Republican primary, Trump got nearly 50 percent of the vote. In the 2016 general election, Trump won only 30 percent of the statewide vote. But in Bristol County, he got 42 percent.

How Ranked Choice Voting Increases Campaign Civility

By changing the math of how votes are counted, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) changes the calculations that candidates make when deciding how to campaign. Plurality voting is a zero sum game where each candidate either gets your vote or doesn’t; one candidate’s loss is their opponent’s gain so there is strong incentive for each candidate to attack the other. In terms of election outcomes it doesn’t matter if a candidate gets a vote because voters like them, or if they get it because voters hate their opponent.

Image 6

Continue reading

Bodega and Thoughts on Diversity of Founders and Investors

Bodega, a new startup, launched today, and faced instant criticism of their name and it’s the impact their business could have on actual Bodega’s.  There were calls of cultural appropriation in the use of the name, only exacerbated by a business model that could be interpreted as designed to compete against local (and often minority) owned corner stores.

The founders of Bodega quickly put up a blog post (So, about our name…) explaining their innocent intentions.  The most highlighted sentence in that piece so far reads:

But it’s clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people.

I’ll come back to that thought in a moment.  That same day, Hunter Walk, a partner at the VC firm homebrew and an investor in Bodega put up his own post about the investment (Thinking About Bodega), and his perspective on the reaction to the name of the company.  I follow Hunter regularly on Twitter, and while I’ve never met him, I think he’s one of the more insightful VC’s who Tweets and Blogs regularly.  But his last paragraph relates to the point I want to make, and connects back to the sentence above from the founder of Bodega.

Continue reading

Ranked Choice Voting and Voter Participation

Note: This post is a part of an ongoing series of posts about Ranked Choice Voting.  You can find other posts in the series here, with more posts to come.

Voter participation in the U.S. is hard to pin down. It can be measured as percentage of registered voters, eligible voters, those of voting age, or of the population as a whole. Participation is higher in presidential elections with new candidates then when one is up for re-election, with even lower turnout for midterm elections, primaries, and municipal races. And voting rates vary widely from state to state, district to district, and demographic to demographic. Increasing the benefits of voting, and or decreasing the obstacles in order to improve voter turnout is not a straightforward proposition with a one size fits all solution.

Still, it’s easy to see why in recent years Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is appealing to many who are looking for ways increase voter turnout. In certain types of elections RCV can eliminate the need for primaries so people only need to make the effort to vote once. Ranking also offers people more choices and doesn’t alienate those who don’t want a major party candidate and it gives each vote more meaning since all votes will affect a candidate’s outcome. RCV also encourages civility during the campaign as each candidate can still benefit from being the number two choice of their opponent’s supporters.

Continue reading

Amicus Briefs on SC Gerrymandering case – Is The Tide Finally Turning?

Credit: Flickr https://flic.kr/p/92AJmt

On October 3, the Supreme Court will hear the Oral Arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case where voters challenged Wisconsin’s state assembly map.

From the Brennan Center article:

The briefs forcefully refute the familiar argument that partisan gerrymandering is mainly about whether Democrats or Republicans come out on top electorally. For example, a brief filed by prominent Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Kasich, Bob Dole, and Dick Lugar, among others, asserts that “[i]f th[e Supreme] Court does not stop partisan gerrymanders, partisan politicians will be emboldened to enact ever more egregious gerrymanders . . . That result would be devastating for our democracy.”

Meanwhile, Senator John McCain—in a brief filed with Senator Whitehouse—warned that “[p]artisan gerrymandering has become a tool for powerful interests to distort the democratic process.” A bipartisan group of 65 current and former state lawmakers, and a bipartisan coalition of current and former members of Congress have also filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs.

You can read more about the case and the briefs filed here.  It’s worth a read.  This is an important case to watch.

Automatic Voter Registration Passes In Illinois

Illinois this week became the 10th state to pass automatic voter registration.  Good.  More states should follow suit.  There are few election reforms that are as straightforward to implement, and provide so much benefit to the electoral process.

Under the Illinois law, whenever someone interacts with the DMV or other state agency, they are registered to vote.  If they don’t want to be registered, they can opt out.  But there is no action they have to take to be registered.

Not only does this increase the number of registered voters, but it helps to clean up the voter rolls, correct mistakes, and achieve many of the goals that the Voter Suppression…sorry, Voter Fraud Commission is supposedly focused on.

Past experience shows how effective this reform is.  From the NYT article:

Meanwhile in Oregon, which in 2015 became the first state to pass automatic voter registration, more than 272,000 people were registered in the law’s first year, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. Of these, 116,000 were found to be unlikely to have registered otherwise, and 40,000 of that group voted in 2016, helping Oregon achieve the nation’s largest turnout increase from 2012 — 4.1 points, to 68.3 percent. Contrary to Republican fears, that increase did not equal Democratic gains. Democrats lost seats in the State Legislature, even though the new voters were more racially diversethan previously registered voters.

In other words, increasing voter participation should be a bipartisan project.


Woeful Funding Stats for Women Entrepreneurs

The Boston Globe recently published funding stats women entrepreneurs for 2016.  It shows how much work we have to do to grow support for women in entrepreneurship.

In 2016, only 9 percent of the $71.7 billion in US venture capital funding went to companies with female founders, according to data prepared for The Boston Globe by the research firm PitchBook.

That was down from 13 percent in 2015, which had been the highest level in years.  The numbers in Boston are marginally better: Last year, about 13 percent of Boston-area VC money went to firms with at least one woman founder, according to PitchBook data, though that, too, was a decline, from 18 percent in 2015.

I wished they had included stats around minority founders as well.

Note that this isn’t just for companies with a founding team comprised entirely of women.  This is for founding teams that include any women at all.

I think it’s going to be increasingly clear over time that companies have to look like their target audience / customers if they are going to be successful.  There is a sea change coming in the demographics of the U.S. specfically, and it’s going to create new opportunities that more diverse founding teams, and companies, should be better positioned to take advantage of.

But it’s going to require a lot of work to put in place the support structures from childhood through college and through the startup eco-system to support increased diversity.

The Great Divide

There is an interesting piece in the NYT today about the different political views of David Horowitz and his son Ben, the well known venture investor from Andreessen Horowitz.  It is a look at the divide not just between this family, but between us as a country.  One quote stands out for me, and I’ve seen this stated before.

The core identity of most people was community, family and religion. But as these other parts of society withered, politics filled the void.

I think this gets to the crux of a lot of what has led to an increase in vitrol and distrust of the ‘other’.  We don’t have community anymore.  There is no common language, that ties us together.  And so we retreat to our homes, stare out our chose media sources, and shout at the internet.

I’m not sure how to solve this problem.  I only see it getting worse.  But I don’t know that we get to a better place as a country without figuring this out.

Networking and Deliberate Practice

First Round Capital has a terrific newsletter, First Round Review. If you don’t get it, you should go here and subscribe. They constantly publish great pieces on entrepreneurship, managing your career and building a great business.
I’ve read a lot of networking articles over the years. But I was really drawn into one of their recent posts, How To Become Insanely Well Connected. There is a lot of great info in this piece, but one bit of advice really struck me regarding building my dream contact list.

What do you want your network to look like, and what are you trying to achieve?  If you know who your top 5 dream contacts are and what you want to talk to them about, you’ll be ready when you run into someone who knows them. Likewise, it’s good to have a forcing function for keeping those connections healthy — consider creating a rolling reminder to get in touch.

It made me realize that my network was developing in an ad hoc way.  One good meeting would lead to an intro to someone else, and that meeting might lead me to someone else of interest.  But it had been a long time since I had sat down, thought deliberately about how I wanted my network to grow, and what new experiences and relationships would be most relevant to how I’m thinking about the future.  

I realized that while my interest in public policy is growing, and as I tried to think through how I could make a great impact in this area, my personal network has almost no one with this kind of experience.  

And that brought me back to the work of Anders Ericsson in the area of deliberate practice.  If you’re not familiar with Anders’ work, this Freakonomics podcast interview is a good place to start.

It reminded me that if you want to make progress in any particular area, you have to have a deliberate effort around making it happen.  And as it relates to building and expanding my network in new directions, I have some work to do.

An Opportunity on Health Care

The failure of the Republicans in the Senate to repeal key parts of Obamacare is an opportunity to start to change the debate on health care. To stop demonizing providing coverage for those that need it, and to see the opportunities that exist when we take away the fear of a lack of coverage.

David Frum has a terrific piece in the Atlantic, The Republican Waterloo.
A key sentence for me is: “They’ll find that they have removed one of the most important barriers to entrepreneurship, because people with bright ideas will fear less to quit the jobs through which they get their health care. ”

The number of new business start ups in America continue to fall. I have to believe that financial insecurity tied to concerns around health care is playing a part in this trend.

As the ACA continues to climb in the polls, it’s clear that people want government to play a role in providing health care. Let’s hope Congress gets the message.