Navigating the local elections can feel like a full-time job during midterm and primary seasons. But just listening to TV ads or reading postcards mailed from different candidates won’t give a full picture of who local officials are and what they will do for the state.
To tackle this lack of transparency and to help avoid frustration at the ballot box, Branch Politics launched several years back as a platform to aggregate information on upcoming ballots. The goal was to help voters truly understand each part of the ballot, from bills and initiatives to candidates at all levels of local government.
Users simply plug in their address and Branch breaks down upcoming referendums and candidate races by how their vote will impact the community.
As focus shifts to Georgia for the 2022 midterms, we caught up with the Branch team to hear how the platform has grown. Walter Ley, a Georgia Tech graduate and founder of Branch Politics, gave us a look how they’ve expanded across the State of Georgia and how their work could help more people feel confident about casting their vote this year:
1) How your team and your platform have evolved recently?
2022 has been an exciting year of growth for us. Our team, which we hire seasonally for each election, has doubled in size.
On the platform, we’ve been creating new features that leverage the power of technology to make certain information more transparent. As one example, we launched a campaign finance feature where we parsed thousands of pages of financial disclosure PDFs from various county websites across Georgia. Now, for a lot of candidates on our site, you can see who is financing the candidates, including how much they raise from big-dollar donors vs. small-dollar donors.
We’re working on a similar project now that allows you to make sense of candidates’ voting records.
We had some really thoughtful reflections and conversations with legal professionals on the best way to cover judicial races for this election. Judicial races are unique because you can’t ask them where they stand on specific issues, as you can a legislator. Now, you can find a full legal background for all of the judicial candidates on Branch. We’ve also done some in-depth reporting on whether or not candidates have any ethical or conduct violations against them.
A big initiative of ours this year has been language access. So this year, we’re offering our tool in languages other than English for the first time. That includes Korean, Spanish, and Chinese.
2) How have you been expanding across the state? How have you been acquiring customers?
We have been expanding indeed. Last year we were in 6 counties. This year, we are in 23 counties across Georgia.
Our “customers” (being the people who pay us), are mainly nonpartisan nonprofits that work in the voting space. We’ve acquired 7 customers this year, compared to 2 last year, which has allowed us to achieve this sort of growth. Some of those are big names in this space, like New Georgia Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and Latinos for Democracy.
They’re using Branch as a tool to get their communities informed about what’s on the ballot, in a nonpartisan way. These partnerships are exciting because a lot of these organizations have been working in their respective communities for over a decade. They’re allowing us to bring informed voting to communities that otherwise might not know about Branch.
3) Do you have any numbers you can share about the number of users/sample ballots that have been created?
Oh yeah, happy to share because we’re very proud of these. As of May 3, we’ve had almost 2,000 people look up what’s on their ballot using the Branch tool. That’s a huge number considering early voting started May 2, and most people don’t really engage with our platform until a week before the election.
4) as the front of your website says, all eyes are truly on Georgia right now. How are you thinking about Branch’s role in the coming few busy months?
I have a lot of conversations about politics because of the work I do. Right now, people see politics as ugly. There’s so much animosity and miscommunication that people want nothing to do with it. There’s also a feeling of general discouragement — either because politics is corrupt or the system is set up in such a way that it trucks along doing whatever it’s going to do, regardless of what the people want.
This is the national sentiment, but it’s especially the sentiment in Georgia. Georgia, this seemingly random state in the South, has somehow ended up being the catalyst and leader in a lot of the national political conversations. A lot of people here shudder about that—“Georgia made the news again, what did we do this time?”. And that’s valid. But it’s an exciting spot to be in, because if we can figure out how to do things here — if we can figure out how to make Georgia politics from something that is ugly, overwhelming, and divisive into a something that makes people feel hopeful — then we can save American politics as a whole.
And that’s Branch’s whole mission. To fix politics. Our role within is that we’re giving people a new way to engage with politics, a way that is hopeful and not so steeped in bias. All of our content is centered around our Nonpartisan Promise, meaning we just report where the candidates stand on the issues. We let voters decide for themselves about which candidate is best, based on what they believe.
A lot of people are always saying “your vote matters”, and we try to take the step of actually proving it. We do that by focusing on the huge impact your vote has with some of the important yet often overlooked local offices. When you make an informed vote for each of these offices, and you know what the offices do and who the candidates are – it’s an incredibly empowering feeling. It’s like acing a test.
Photos provided by Branch Politics