This is What Winning Looks Like

How a small team touched every congressional election in the country.

Sarah Sullivan
Dec 6, 2018 · 5 min read

Since its founding in 2017, The New Data Project has been experimenting to find the best way to increase voter turnout. VoteWithMe — our relational voter turnout app — was, by far, the most effective tool we found. So, we dedicated every resource we had to getting VoteWithMe into as many hands as possible before Election Day in 2018. Here’s the story of how that turned out:

What’s VoteWithMe?

VoteWithMe is a mobile app that encourages you to get your friends out to vote, especially your friends in swing districts. It’s different from traditional GOTV methods, like door knocking and phone banking, that rely on getting strangers out to vote, because it focuses on people you already know. VoteWithMe gives everyday people a powerful tool to use for free, anywhere, and without having to go through campaigns or the party apparatus.

It works.

A randomized control trial we ran earlier this year found VoteWithMe to be as much as 20x more effective than stranger-to-stranger GOTV tactics like phone banking. We knew VoteWithMe worked.

But just like other relational organizing programs, we struggled with adoption and scaling. For months and months before our midterm launch, we pored over dozens of interviews with voters and users, studying this problem. Those interviews helped us land on a new design which centers on sharing the public voter registration records of your friends. Read more about the design and how we landed on it.

Could it spread?

The big question: Armed with this new design, could VoteWithMe — and relational organizing — spread in time for the midterms?

The answer: Yes.

VoteWithMe takes off

VoteWithMe launched for the midterms on September 13. Since launch, we’ve received more interest and attention than we have ever seen in election-tech.

We had tremendous and dedicated partner groups like Daily Kos, who made VoteWithMe a featured action to its members. Those partner groups helped generate early interest in the app.

Then, press picked up. We were featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fast Company, and The Verge, among others, and a number of on-air TV and radio appearances. We were “Trending” and “Featured” at various times in the Apple App Store. For one afternoon, we were the top story in the US section of Google News.

In the days leading up the the election, major leaders and influencers jumped on board to promote friend-to-friend outreach generally and VoteWithMe explicitly. On November 5, Hillary Clinton made VoteWithMe her election-eve action to her followers on all of her platforms, and Jimmy Kimmel talked about VoteWithMe in his opening monologue.

By the end, we had achieved the ultimate signals of political success: we were declared to be an “ingenious and devious” part of the Democrats’ secret conspiracy, and remarkably similar for-profit apps began to appear.

Over the last week, organic installs and interest grew so exponentially that we don’t know how most people heard about us (including HRC and Jimmy Kimmel). I think that means we went viral.

Cool, you went viral. But how did you do?

To achieve our goals, we needed a bare minimum of 20,000 installs before the election. Privately, the team hoped we would achieve installs in the high tens of thousands.

By Election Day, we had hundreds of thousands of VoteWithMe users. We had users in every congressional district in America. Texts were sent to voters in every district as well. And 75% of texts were sent to voters in competitive districts.

What drove all the interest?

Two things: growing awareness about friend-to-friend outreach and our new design that shares public voter information about your friends.

Observationally, relational organizing and friend-to-friend outreach seemed to gather more traction this cycle. You saw lots of messages like ours. Even if influencers weren’t promoting a specific relational organizing tool, they understood that getting your friends out to vote matters. The word got out about getting your friends to the polls. And, of course, VoteWithMe is a tool that helps you do that.

With VoteWithMe specifically, it is clear that our re-design centered around seeing your friends’ public voter information drove a lot of interest. This is what made VoteWithMe interesting to users; it’s what got them to come back to the app; and it’s what got people to share it organically — something we never achieved with previous versions.

Revealing the public voter information about your friends made some people uncomfortable and some press reflected that. However even stories that were skeptical ultimately drove more downloads and usage of the app. And for any one person who was unsure about seeing the public voter history of their friends, many more welcomed and endorsed the new tool that now put power and data in their hands — data that was once only available to campaigns and parties.

So, how successful were you?

As Secretaries of State compile their data over the next few months, we’ll know more about how effective VoteWithMe was and how many votes it likely turned out on November 6. Until then, we’re thrilled that so many people got excited about getting their friends out to vote and that VoteWithMe contributed to historic records of voter turnout. And, we’re excited about all those new Members that are heading to Congress in January.

What’s next?

We believed the 2018 midterm elections were too important and too uncertain to hold anything back. We wanted to wake up on November 7 knowing we had done everything we could and left it all on the field. We dedicated every last dollar in The New Data Project bank account to be spent by November 6, 2018. Our nonprofit will suspend operations in January, and our people are taking a bit of a break while we prepare for our next things.

On this side of the election, that still feels like the right decision.

So what’s next for VoteWithMe? Given its overwhelming success and users’ strong desire for it — surprisingly, we have maintained a high install rate, even after the election — we are going to make sure VoteWithMe stays around for future elections one way or another. 2020, you’re up!


In the current climate, causes and campaigns too often lack the time, expertise, and flexibility to work beyond immediate deadlines. The New Data Project (NDP) is a new 501(c)(4) organization built to address this gap by testing new approaches, looking beyond the current cycle, and serving as an advanced technology research lab for progressives.

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Blog posts from the staff of The New Data Project, building technology for persistent democracy.

Sarah Sullivan

Written by

Deputy Executive Director of the New Data Project. Formerly: @USDigitalService and Obama White House.

NDP Annotations

Blog posts from the staff of The New Data Project, building technology for persistent democracy.