Protocol | Policy

Here's who'll be running the Democrats' tech for voters

Arthur Thompson will join the DNC as engineering head as the party hopes to push back on voting restrictions, in part through tech.

people in voting booths

Democrats are hiring a new engineering head to oversee the party's voting information and data files as Republican-backed state bills seek to limit voting.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Against a backdrop of new vote-restricting laws, the Democratic National Committee is bringing on a new head of engineering to oversee its platform for voter information, the data its candidates use to target their outreach and the organization's security.

Arthur Thompson was most recently chief technology officer at Jobcase, the social media site for job seekers. His hiring comes as Democrats try to combat a series of laws from Republicans in more than a dozen states that elections experts say would limit voting.

"I'm tremendously excited to join the DNC at a really exciting and pivotal time for the Democratic Party," Thompson said in a statement. "I hope to leverage my experience scaling teams and technology to continue to build on the DNC's successes and empower the reach of progressive leaders all across the country."

One of Thompson's top duties will be expanding IWillVote.com, where Americans can find out information about elections, check their registration status and, in some cases, register to vote.

In July, Vice President Kamala Harris announced a $25 million expansion of the DNC's "I Will Vote" campaign, citing Democratic investments "in the tools and technology to register voters, to educate voters, to turn out voters, to protect voters." The site is part of Democrats' efforts to get out the vote as state bills, largely inspired by the lie that Donald Trump won the presidential election, seek to limit voting. The bills impose ID requirements at the ballot box, widen restrictions on voting by mail, limit early voting and more. The Supreme Court in July also upheld new Republican-backed voting restrictions in Arizona, ruling against the DNC challenge.

"Protecting voting rights is not about any one discipline," said Nell Thomas, the DNC's chief technology officer. "It's not just for lawyers. It's not just for technologists. It's not just for politicians. It's a whole-of-society problem right now."

Thomas said Thompson will also be overseeing the DNC's software for lawyers to "track incidents of voter suppression," potentially for use in legal actions, as well as heading up technical work of growing, and gleaning insights from, the party's files on 300 million voters and non-voters.

That information is the lifeblood of modern campaigns at the local, state and federal level, on both sides of the aisle, as they try to get candidates' messages "into the ears and hands and eyes of as many voters as possible," Thomas said.

"A campaign is really a massive marketing program," she added. "We want to find out all the people who are online potentially shopping for candidates."

The files also allow campaigns to focus limited resources on targeting voters who are most receptive to messages. The DNC is also "making very large investments" in getting lists of non-voters in order to power registration efforts, Thomas said, and is developing tools to identify when people are purged from voter lists or labeled inactive so that the Democrats can potentially help them re-register if appropriate.

In addition, Thompson's portfolio will include cybersecurity, although the party is also searching for a new chief security officer. Democrats are still smarting from the endless 2016 news cycles about Hillary Clinton's emails, but those were released under public records laws. Both the DNC and Clinton's campaign chairman, meanwhile, suffered breaches from Russian government hackers and the subsequent leak of messages, which helped demonstrate the importance of security measures to the party.

"If there's one really important lesson that we've learned coming out of 2016, it's that we must remain vigilant constantly," Thomas said.

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