Hi. I’m Steve Murch, and I’m the sole person behind ALIGNVOTE.
I think it’s reasonable to know who’s behind the site, and I’d always planned to disclose my founding role when we rolled it out. So now that we’re in beta, let me introduce myself.
I’ve lived in Seattle since 1991. I love Seattle and the larger Pacific Northwest. I grew up on the east coast, and have lived in several different cities through college, work and grad school. I’m half Canadian. I’m a dad and a husband. I love building stuff.
I’m a very lucky tech entrepreneur who is extremely privileged. I’ve worked at Microsoft (that’s why I moved here, in 1991), Expedia, and a couple of my own startups.
I’ve worked here, taught here (University of Washington’s Foster School of Business), I’ve volunteered here (Habitat for Humanity, International Rescue Committee, Technology Access Foundation, University District Food Bank, One Sack Lunch and other organizations), donated to charities here, created jobs here, and am helping to raise a family here. Here’s my LinkedIn page if curious.
I’ve rented and I’ve owned, and have lived in Capitol Hill, Green Lake, Madrona/Leschi, Laurelhurst and the Eastside. I live and vote in D4. I ride bikes, am a Cascade Bicycle Club Member (I’ve ridden the STP and RSVP.) I drive. I take light rail (and particularly love the bike to light rail combo, personally.) I love this region.
We are smart and compassionate and innovative people here in the Pacific Northwest, and I think we can and should do better. We need to improve our policymaking and the way we talk about political issues. Good and intelligent people can and do disagree.
My Political Stances
I don’t wear either the blue or red political team jersey. Though I’ve deliberately never registered for any political party, I do have stances on causes and issues. I’m a human, and I vote.
As of about a year ago, I got involved in a couple of Seattle-centric political causes I care about, including the EHT, and overall, more effective local governance. I’m tired of just complaining about it, so about a year ago, with a little more time on my hands, I decided to start acting on those concerns.
I’m an independent, issues-oriented voter. I weight fiscal responsibility perhaps a bit more than many of my peers, because I think we could be doing a lot more civic good with our funds, and I think my fellow voters (and nonvoters) too often undervalue the importance of sound fiscal management in government. It’s kinda boring, but it matters. It affects everything we want to do. That’s because not only can better oversight do a lot more direct good, but lax oversight destroys trust and makes it far harder to raise new revenues when needed.
For what it’s worth, here’s where I land on the Political Compass (taken August 2019). Give it a try yourself if you’d like:
I don’t mind paying taxes, and our taxes are quite high, at least in an absolute sense, and have been growing higher every year. That’s partly my decision; I’ve voted for the Affordable Housing Levy, the Parks Levy, and pretty much all education levies. I cherish our environment and am happy to invest more there. I’d be happy to pay more, but I want much better assurance that those dollars are well-spent, and I don’t yet have that confidence. I like education and basic housing and food causes, because they’re basic needs that make a profound difference in people’s lives.
I have political opinions on specific issues, and my answers for ALIGNVOTE interviews (and resultant rankings of candidates) will most certainly not be everyone’s.
In the most recent Presidential Election (2016), I voted for Hillary Clinton, believing her to be the least bad of two awful viable choices we had. Before that, I was a Mitt Romney (2012) and Barack Obama (2008) voter. And in Seattle, this year, in addition to my volunteer work live-streaming forums Speak Out Seattle, I started donating modestly to some candidates (at present they are: Heidi Stuber, Logan Bowers, Ari Hoffman, Alex Pedersen and Brendan Kolding) and just last week to one PAC, People for Seattle. I did not support the Employee Hours (Head Tax), and have written elsewhere online about why I did not. My political donations don’t extend back very far; I think I wrote my first political campaign check less than 12 months ago. Though I don’t consider Amazon the boogeyman that some City Council members do, I do think they could be a better partner (as could the City Council) and I very much think that federal laws should be changed which are allowing them to have so many years without federal income taxes being owed. I also have serious concerns about the nature of truth in the digital age, fake news, bots, the benefits vs. downsides of “big tech” and more.
I like candidates who listen and have similar views on some key issues that I care about. I am not someone who feels that a candidate has to agree with all of my positions. Blah. That’s a lot of boring stuff about me, offered here because I think questions about who is behind ALIGNVOTE are warranted now that we’re officially in beta for voters.
But here’s the thing.
ALIGNVOTE doesn’t care about MY personal political stances.
The “how similarly did you answer” algorithm doesn’t care about the actual text. It’s purely a similarity score, adjusted only by the relative weightings the voter applies.
That’s as it should be. With AlignVote, YOU as a voter take precisely the same interview that all candidates are offered, and it simply ranks the level of similarity (which we call alignment) between your answers and theirs on these questions. That’s it. That one, simple premise is the essence of ALIGNVOTE.
Quick Check for Bias which ALL Campaigns Should Do
All candidates and their campaigns can easily check the internal accuracy and lack of bias by simply self-interviewing (from the same or other browser entirely.) They will be able to confirm that if they input the same answers as their known stances (i.e., pretending to be a voter with the same stances), or even simply answer closer to themselves than any other competitor in the field, they will consistently show up ranked #1. Find a discrepancy? Shout it on Twitter, provide step-by-step reproduction case, and tell me immediately about it.
If there is any case in which this is not done, that can only mean that another candidate ALSO answered precisely as that candidate did, and thus the match is equal. We haven’t seen that condition yet in numerous tests, but it’s mathematically possible. Any bugs should be reported to alignvote[at]gmail.com and we will address it right away.
A related aside: we do have one feature that’s not yet implemented — I definitely think that AlignVote should randomize display order in the case of pure ties. That’s a known feature work item, and simply hasn’t been implemented yet due to schedule, but will be implemented in the near future.
Reaction & Kerfuffle
When the sneak preview was first sent around on or about Sunday June 8, 2019, it started to get some commentary on Twitter.
I’ve received some emails from several people who love the tool. One friend who cares deeply about the 35th Avenue bike lane being restored simply weighted that issue 100 during his interview, and discovered a new candidate that he should learn more about.
The reaction is also not universally positive. Some are clearly unhappy about the lack of complete transparency during the stance confirmation phase, when ALIGNVOTE was gathering the answers to the questions via emailed surveys to all candidates late last week.
Let me explain why I chose to do so.
On Keeping My Role Mum
I have always intended to disclose my founding role on the site’s beta rollout, and since the vast majority of candidate answers are in, that day has arrived, I do so now. But for reasons that should be clear by now, I did not want my own creation of it to be front-and-center while asking candidates to complete/confirm the questionnaire, because I’ve seen the same cynical playbook that is now taking place.
The reason I held back is largely due to my volunteer role doing A/V for the for-some-reason very-controversial-to-some SOS forums.
As backstory for those who don’t know, there was a very significant but unsuccessful effort put on by a small cadre of activists to stop (i.e., shut-down) the city council candidate forums hosted by SOS before they began. Several activists strongly encouraged every candidate to opt out, and attempted to smear the organization (and by extension, its volunteers) with incorrect information, and conflate it with another organization.
Happily, this effort backfired pretty spectacularly, and ended up bringing a lot MORE attention to these open forums. Further, it showed very clearly when the videos did arrive that they’re pretty typical civic forums, comparable with all others, but yes, also covered issues of public safety, public encampment, addiction and homelessness. By drawing unwarranted controversy, they focused a big spotlight on the forums and helped more than quadruple the membership of the group. Literally thousands of Seattle voters have now seen these forums in person or online, and these wouldn’t have happened without their help. So, though it created some drama, several in SOS privately thank them for it. Sometimes, unreasonable and premature criticism is a great gift.
Now that these forums are in the past, you don’t have to take anyone’s word for whether they were fair, free and open, or whether there was any “hate” involved in the questions or answers. Simply watch the videos. But if the handful of activists’ juvenile “shutdown” efforts had succeeded, we citizens would have been deprived of a lot of opportunities to hear from our future leaders about some key issues facing the city. And dozens of candidates would have been deprived great opportunities to get their messages out in front of voters.
Nevertheless, the inaccurate smear still has purchase for some. Since I was the A/V volunteer and have made several posts on the SOS Facebook group and website, I’m pretty sure that if I had disclosed my ALIGNVOTE-founding role, there is the distinct possibility that yet another “boycott” effort would have been drummed up. That too, I think, would have deprived voters of useful information.
Now that the candidates have confirmed stances, they can certainly decide to keep their participation, as I hope they decide to do, to connect and engage with as many voters as possible. Or they can opt-out per the section above, and pass the microphone others as we raise awareness of this tool.
I do apologize to those who wanted full and complete identity information a couple days ago. Here it is now, a couple days later, and I hope you’ll accept my belated reveal, or at least wish to remain with greatest chance of matching many voters’ expressed stances.
This will not be a tool that everyone will love. So, detractors (and, sadly, trolls) will certainly offer some strong critique. Sadly, a tiny group of activists love to play the ad-hominem approach, going after the person rather than the idea. They think that’s effective, and I’m sure there are plenty of folks scouring my fairly ample online history and persona digging up whatever they think makes their case that I’m evil, uncaring, impossibly biased, or what-have-you. I’m sure they will feel that they know my motivations or political leanings or intentions better than I’ve expressed to you above, or here on the rollout announcement.
So, if you are so inclined, I could use your support — a product suggestion, feature idea, or maybe even a kind word about this tool if you find it useful. You can follow me on social media at @stevemur, and the platform at @alignvote:
Monday, 10:04AM: For just a tiny glimpse into the predictable ad-hominem approach, which attempts to turn the the debate into one about the person rather than, say, reproduce-able results that can be shown in any way to be problematic, we need only turn to Twitter, not surprisingly from an anonymous account.
As I’ve already explained, there’s a simple bias check that I encourage any candidate to do. Simply answer as a voter would with your own views, and you should always rank #1 or tied for #1 (if there’s another candidate with those exact same views.) I welcome any step-by-step repro-case that differs, because if that exists, it’s a very important bug that I’ll need to find and fix. Go.
And here’s a strong supporter of Shaun Scott and detractor of Alex Pedersen in D4 verifying that it works for him. Love to see this feedback:
And here’s a strong supporter of Zachary DeWolf seeing the same:
Steve’s a Seattle-based entrepreneur and software leader, husband and father of three. He’s American-Canadian, and east-coast born and raised. Steve has made the Pacific Northwest his home since 1991, when he moved here to work for Microsoft. He’s started and sold multiple Internet companies. Politically independent, he writes on occasion about city politics and national issues, and created voter-candidate matchmaker Alignvote in the 2019 election cycle. He holds a BS in Applied Math (Computer Science) and Business from Carnegie Mellon University, a Masters in Computer Science from Stanford University in Symbolic and Heuristic Computation, and an MBA from the Harvard Business School, where he graduated a George F. Baker Scholar. Steve volunteers when time allows with Habitat for Humanity, University District Food Bank, Technology Access Foundation (TAF) and other organizations in Seattle.