If we want a progressive political agenda–or at least presidents who don’t brag about sexually assaulting women–the only cure to this horrible cultural moment of Roy Moores and Harvey Weinsteins may be surprisingly obvious: We need more women in political power. And we need good design to help get them there.
A new initiative called Project 100, cofounded by designer Eduardo Ortiz, wants to balance the gender count of Congress with a simple website.
After Trump won the election, Eduardo Ortiz found himself in a difficult position. He worked in a relatively senior post for the United States Digital Service, a group born from the Obama administration that was meant to modernize government forms, websites, and IT. An ex-Marine, he was able to simplify the hoops immigrants had to jump through to become citizens.
It was important work, and despite Trump’s tendency to attempt to undo just about everything Obama put into place, Ortiz’s initiatives had remained untouched, he told me when we met last spring in D.C. The administration had been downright supportive of the USDS’s work, and he was afraid to jeopardize the jobs of over 100 of his colleagues by vocalizing his criticisms.
This left Ortiz gritting his teeth through the Muslim ban and the attempts at repealing Obamacare. He typed at his keyboard, and waved his mouse, with only the slightest of betrayals: On his wrist, he had RESIST tattooed in all caps.
Ortiz didn’t make it a year before he resigned his post and walked away from the Trump government. “The red line for me was the whole denunciation of DACA, and the defense of Dreamers,” he says. “That was it.” A naturalized citizen himself, Ortiz had immigrated to the U.S. in 2004 from the Dominican Republic to find incredible success in the States. No doubt, he took this particular insult personally.
So Ortiz quit his job. He began consulting to make a living. And he also cofounded a new site called Project 100. Its goal? To get 100 progressive women into Congress by the year 2020 (which happens to not just be an important election year, but the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage). “We’re currently at 78, so we’re calling for a 22-seat gain over two election cycles,” says cofounder and executive director Danielle Gram. “This is ambitious, achievable, and the kind of bold change Americans are hungry to see. If we achieved this, women’s representation in Congress would go from a paltry 20% to 23%.” A huge gain? In sheer numbers, maybe not. But it would achieve over 10% growth in just a few years. And it would buck a political system that still favors old money over new ideas.
“In today’s world, there are organizations supportive of women that are very explicit on who they actually support. Most women who are running, who don’t have vast networks because they came from an ivy league school, or a substantial amount of money already raised, don’t get access to the DNC or other orgs that are providing money to candidates,” says Ortiz. “So our platform is meant to give them the ability to have access to grassroots donations, by promoting awareness–by giving them a location anyone can find them, and decide if they want to volunteer.”
Project 100 is a relatively simple thing. It’s a list of women who are running for Congress. The site uses your geolocation to retrieve locally relevant candidates. And thanks to research and categorization by the Project 100 team, their values are laid out and linked, with particular highlights like “business leader” or “swing district” called out for your easy perusal.
It’s not a dazzling site, but it’s remarkably clear and usable. And it feels like a necessary antidote to those of us who show up to the ballot box and see dozens of non-presidential names we don’t recognize. (While stats on this phenomenon are unclear, it’s well documented that many, or even most of us don’t know a lot of the names on a ballot.)
Notably, the candidates are presented in an endless grid. It may look random, but it’s organized through a logic you never see. The site uses an algorithm that prioritizes the candidates with more fundraising, Twitter followers, and media mentions, essentially floating those who are trending up toward the top of the feed. It’s an organizational decision made because, ultimately, the site needs to be organized somehow, and the candidates who have the greatest measurable shot of winning are prioritized up top. However, Ortiz wanted to make sure that such algorithmic decisions didn’t blackball any fledging candidate. So they’re always presented on a single page, no matter how long that list may get.
“If you search for the Bronx, there are over 20 candidates. And even at that point, we decided to just list them all. I made a conscious decision not to paginate things,” says Ortiz. “Because when you paginate, you make the conscious decision that some people are going to be on the first page, and some people are going to be on the second page. How do you manage that inherent bias that could exist there?”
It’s a noble decision, but at the same time, Project 100 creates a bit of a liberal bubble. What you won’t see is any information on the other side, like who these women are running against–which is the sort of background that might actually instill an even greater importance on supporting fledging, progressive candidates.
Such features are on the list, says Ortiz, but he admits that the crew is small, and there isn’t a lot of time to iterate. [Update: As of this morning, the team has already added the ability to see “current office holders” on candidate pages.] Congressional elections start in March 2018. And while most products can delay a ship date, the cadence of politics will move on, with or without them.
“Right now, we’re all volunteers with primary jobs,” Ortiz admits. “So this becomes a second job.” Though it’s likely the more important one.