A Stronger Future Together Through a Commitment to Full Participation: Building the Tools to Empower All to Vote; Bradley Tusk, CEO and Co-Founder, Tusk Philanthropies; New York, New York

MARK RICCOBONO: All right, great. 

So, continuing the conversation about voting, this is an important presentation, of course, we support accessibility in voting, and we believe that that does not have to come at the expense of security. So often security is used as the reason not to provide full access. And in this organization, we believe that both can be done together. When it comes to accessibility in other realms, we promote companies viewing accessibility like security, at a very high level, and treating them both as important aspects of developing software or websites. This next presentation is in line with that: Stronger Future Together Through a Commitment to Full Participation, Building the Tools to Empower All to Vote. This gentleman I've had the opportunity to get to know very recently, Mr. Tusk has a long history of a number of ventures that he has spearheaded, everything from capital ventures to political consulting. 

But what brings him to our stage today is his work through our family's foundation to really lead the national campaign to build mobile voting tools for United States elections that are accessible and secure. And he's using his own private efforts to do this. I had the opportunity to talk with him about some of his political experience and how the idea of getting more people to vote is what really drives his interest in making great policy for the nation. Now, there's a lot of another things I could tell you about him and his tremendous skills, and we could tell you about his commitment to his family and the things that he does. But I think the thing that should tell you the most about who he is, about his tenacity, his heart, is this line, which is at the end of his biography on the web, which says: He spends his free time worrying about the Mets. 

Here's Bradley Tusk! 

(Song: And we will rise up, rise up, rise up, we will rise up, rise up, rise up! We will rise up, rise up, rise up, rise up strong! 
No one will stand alone...) 

BRADLEY TUSK: Thank you so much, if you ask my wife, I spend too much time worrying about the Mets, and I will be in the game tonight. But thank you for the opportunity to speak with you, it's a tremendous privilege. I spent the first 15 years of my career working in New York City politics, worked in the office of Mayor Bloomberg, worked in Washington, city government, federal government, local government, executive branch, legislative branch, ran campaigns, so I feel like I've seen politics from every angle. And over 15 years, I've learned that the inputs shape the outputs. If you want certain outcomes, the incentives have to line up with them. Otherwise it doesn't happen. Having worked with a number of politicians over my career, the conclusion I've reached is they really need the validation and affirmation of holding office. This may not be true for 100% of them, but generally speaking, being somebody matters so much to them, it fills a hole in their psyche, that they'll always put staying in office ahead of everything else. It doesn't make them bad people. It makes them human. My guess is if you look back at the Greek Senate, Roman Senate, or any other democracy in history, you'd find the same thing. The people who run for office care about staying in office. 

A few years ago, I ran a campaign for Uber to legalize ridesharing all over the U.S.  At the time, Uber was a small tech startup and the taxi industry was very powerful and connected. The way we took on and beat them is we mobilized our customers and said to them, if you like this service and want to be able to keep using it, please let your elected officials know, and through the app, they were able to text or tweet or e-mail or in some way tell their city council member, their state senator, governor, mayor, whoever it was, that they wanted this thing to stick around. A couple million people ended up doing that, and we won in every single market in the U.S.  And I remember thinking at the time, wow, it's not that people are totally apathetic or disengaged. They just don't necessarily want to go through what it takes to vote in person. 

What if you could vote in the way that we just mobilized all these people to argue for ridesharing? So it was an idea in the back of our heads. And over the succeeding years, blockchain technology really improved, and it went from being a "hey, wouldn't this be cool" idea to "we can do this". Luckily, my work in venture capital and technology, I've made some money, and I put it to good use by creating this mobile technology project. We kicked off in West Virginia in 2018. Mac Warner who spoke a couple days ago here, the Secretary of State, gave us our first chance at it. It worked. We've now held 20 elections across 7 states, ballots available for people with disabilities or for deployed military or both. We've seen states like West Virginia allow mobile voting to be available for all people with disabilities, we just heard from Secretary Griswold about Colorado doing something similar. And it's worked. Turnout has doubled in mobile voting elections, and the national cyber security center has audited every single mobile voting election, every single one has come back clean. Now, we need to keep improving the technology and making it as secure as possible. 

But we know that no system is perfect, and that mobile voting has the potential, as Mark said, to make it radically easier for people to pass their ballot and to be more secure than any other system. The use case for the blind is obvious to anyone here, which is you should be able to vote with complete privacy and enjoy the same rights that every other American has when it comes to voting, using the technology that you use all day long. You should be able to vote on your phone. It's really hard for people to argue that that's not the case. And yet it's still an uphill climb. That's why the work with the NFB has been so meaningful to us and we're so grateful for your partnership. Because to us, the use case for the blind is obvious, but the use case for everyone is obvious, which is, we have a government that simply doesn't work. It can't function because all the incentives toward staying in office are designed toward dysfunction. Say, as a random example, you're a Republican Congressman from Florida, and by the way, this applies equally to both parties. Your turnout is 12%. So the only election that matters is the primary. Half of the primary voters are NRA members. You may know if you're a Congressman that people shouldn't be able to walk in off the street and walk out with an AK-47, and you may look at shootings in schools, churches, and Walmarts across the country and think you have to do something about assault weapons, but you know an assault weapon ban would mean your career is over, so you don't do that. This is true at every level -- municipal, county, state, federal. 

And the problem isn't them. The problem is us. We either expect there to be a transformational leader who will just fix all of it -- everyone who runs for president always promises that, it never happens -- or expect politicians to act outside their own self- interest. They've never done it before, will never do it going forward. But imagine in Florida, in 30 to 40% of people vote simply on their phone, and you see in polls that most people don't think assault bans should be available to everyone. So in the same election, with 12% of people voting in the primary, the Congressman votes against the ban, the same Congressman with the same incentive with 50% of people voting in the primary now votes for the ban. So we don't have to have a democracy that focuses on a few -- either the ideologues who vote every election on one issue or special interests with all the money. We can create something that works differently. And all the people who like things the way they are aren't going to say I prefer to keep my power the way it is. They'll say it's not secure, it's not safe. We'd love to make it easier to vote, we just can't do it, because we can't take the risk. You see that now in the debates over new voting laws in places like Georgia, and Texas. And they're saying that to us, which is, sure, we'd love mobile voting, but we can't do it simply because it's too risky. That's just not true. We've already seen that in 7 states and 20 jurisdictions, and people with disabilities can now tell you that firsthand in places all the country. 

So we need to keep working on the technology to make sure it's as robust as everything out there, and pressure leaders across the country to follow West Virginia's lead, follow Colorado's lead, and create a movement that is willing to demand that it be easier to vote. This will only happen if millions of Americans stand up and say I ought to be able to vote this way, it's secure, it's safe, and the only reason we're not allowed to is because the people in power don't want to lose power, that's not an acceptable reason to lose progress and change. And we need this more than ever because every policy seems like a failure, every political cycle false apart in some way, and every time we can't rebuild our bridges and roads because we can't pass an infrastructure bill, we can't resolve immigration, we can't figure out how to make health care affordable or education more accountable or have higher standards. All of that is because the incentives in the system now are designed to keep things from happening, because turnout is low, and that's because it's simply too hard to vote, unquestionably for the blind, but in reality, for everybody. We can't keep letting that happen. So yes, this is a hard problem and a tough project. Technology can be hard. Building movements, as you know better than anyone is really hard, but you've done it successfully, and hopefully we can do it again here. And this is really the only way forward to a democracy that true works, a government that truly functions, to a country that can finally solve problems like climate change or guns, or education or health care, immigration, or so many others. The way we're going as a country right now just isn't sustainable. You can't fail to get anything done for decades on end and expect to stay together as a successful country. So I don't know that we even last as one country if we don't find a way to change things. I truly believe that mobile voting is the way to change it. That's why I've put my money and my time and my connections and whatever else I have to offer into this movement. Because I believe that it's the only way to save our democracy, the only way to make voting far easier and more accessible for people with disabilities, people all across our country. So I'm really just here to say thank you. You guys have been a tremendous partner to us. We've been working together in lots of different states to try to make people listen and understand why this is so important. And you guys have been among our best partners in the whole country. So the main point was just to say thank you to all of you. Thank you for your partnership, thank you for listening, thank you for being part of this movement, we're going to keep fighting for you and we're really grateful to be doing this with you. I probably went a little under on time, I suspect no one is going to mind too much, but Mark, if anyone has questions, I'll be more than happy to answer. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Bradley, thank you for that. What's your feeling about the timeline for really proving this technology? What's your prediction? How long is this going to take? 

BRADLEY TUSK: That's a great question. I think we can have new technology built and ready in a little under 2 years. Then the question is from when the technology works to when everyone can stop making excuses not to use it, how much time? I'm shooting for 2028 to where every American can vote in elections on their phone. It's a little bit of an arbitrary date. Look, my view is, if we did nothing at all, eventually technology always wins. So in 25 years, 40 years, some amount of time, mobile voting would happen on its own. But every year it doesn't happen is a year we can't get anything done in Washington, our state houses, and our cities all over the country. So every year we can make it happen faster is a year we can help save our democracy. So, you know, my view is if we can do everything right, all work together well, by 2028, everyone can vote this way, and that's my prediction. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Excellent. Well, we're going to try to hold you to it. We appreciate your partnership and having this be one strategy to increase the participation of the blind in the voting process. And your partnership, your sponsorship of this convention, your thought leadership in how we can advance opportunities for all voters, but including voters who are blind, is really powerful. So thank you for this new partnership. We look forward for many many years to come, even after 2028! 

BRADLEY TUSK: Absolutely, we'll find something else to work on together. Thank you for the opportunity to be here.