Last Friday, Coro Southern California, a nonpartisan nonprofit working to cultivate “the next generation of diverse leaders,” hosted their annual Technology x Democracy conference at our LA HQ. I had the great luck to attend what turned out to be a dynamic day of panels, keynotes, and Q&A’s featuring a diverse and brilliant group of leaders in journalism, politics, tech, public works, film, engineering, venture capital, and many intersections thereof. I walked away floored by the sheer combined brain power of the speakers and 300+ attendees, armed with takeaways that made me hopeful about the role civic tech can play in navigating the challenges of our unique cultural moment—here in California, and beyond.

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We can (and will) make voting more accessible by modernizing the process.

California’s already off to a great start. In the morning’s keynote, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan outlined an exciting array of updates to how Californians will be able to vote in coming elections. For instance, with the option to visit countywide voting centers that stay open for at least a week, more eligible voters will have the opportunity to both register and vote, even if their work or family schedules typically keep them away from the polls on election day. And, with ballots that can be automatically mailed to each eligible voter, there’s a better chance for constituents to familiarize themselves with the candidates and issues at stake before they cast their vote. Perhaps the most exciting update was the introduction of interactive sample ballots—which voters can access from their devices, toggle to learn more about each candidate or issue, and fill out their choices to prepare for the real thing.

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New tools give more candidates a chance, but winning still takes human connection.

On a panel dedicated to running for office in the digital age, Jim Cupples of RunForOffice.org talked about how the access to information new candidates have at their disposal has increased—in part, because of publicly searchable databases like RunForOffice.org where people can learn about key local offices (that typically go uncontested) and what’s required to enter each race. He said, “You’re seeing very different candidates running for office, and the tools that used to be reserved for just the upper echelon campaigns [are now available to] people who are working outside parties.” Both Cupples and Mariah Craven of Sea Change Leadership PAC reiterated the importance of meeting supporters (and detractors) where they are, and maintaining connection on a human level—even between cycles.

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If tech helped create the information bubbles we live in, it can help break them down.

During the first panel of the morning we heard a group of political and economic journalists hash out breaking news almost as it happened, addressing the hurdles they face in a saturated, polarized media landscape and asking—how can civil discourse break through the noise? Nicole Childers of Marketplace suggested that tech platforms can help bridge this divide by, first, opening themselves up to people with different points of view. “If at any point in your life you’re comfortable,” she said, “you should challenge yourself to be uncomfortable” and really try to get to know “how other people think, how other people live, how other people vote.” The need to confront our own biases and encourage others to do the same—and moreover, to intentionally pursue diversity in the people we hire and the communities we serve—was a theme that echoed throughout the day.

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Many thanks to Coro Southern California for the inspiring conversations, shared insights, and encouragement to act with empathy and inclusion in the vital work ahead. Learn more about our upcoming LA events here.

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