DNC Voter Expansion Project
The Voter Expansion Project is a division of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) dedicated to protecting voting rights and registering new voters. It was founded in early 2014 with backing from Bill and Hillary Clinton. Many initiatives have occurred under the umbrella of the Voter Expansion Project, including legal efforts, data analytics, issue investigations, and voter engagement. Pratt Wiley has headed the Project since its inception in 2014, and Seth Rich was its data director from 2014 until his Washington DC murder in July 2016.
Formation in 2014
The DNC launched the Voter Expansion Project in late February 2014, announcing it at their winter meeting in Washington DC. Its express purpose was boosting voter turnout and making it easier for prospective voters to register, vote, and have their votes counted. Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, vice chair Donna Brazile, and director of voter expansion Pratt Wiley emphasized the importance of on-the-ground organizing and working with state/local parties, rather than just defensive legal challenges:
At a briefing for reporters, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida said: "We are not just going to be on defense anymore. The DNC is going to dominate offense. We are focused on expanding the map... "We are very committed to making sure that we invest and work with our state parties on putting boots on the ground, on focusing on voter expansion... and making sure that everyone who wants to vote and is eligible has an opportunity to register, has an opportunity to turnout and can have their vote accurately counted," said Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chairwoman. "Our goal is to reach people where they live, where they eat, where they play and where they pray," in order to significantly increase the typically low voter turnout rates of midterm elections, said Donna Brazile, the DNC vice chair and a prominent Democratic political strategist. [...] "Voter protection has gone from being a bunch of lawyers suing on Election Day to more proactive," said Pratt Wiley, the DNC's voter protection director. "It's gone from being a legal strategy to an organizing strategy."
Both Bill and Hillary Clinton were major backers of the Voter Expansion Project. They were reportedly "fired up" by the 2013 Supreme Court decision gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and saw the initiative as a way to increase the pool of voters as well as a plan to attract donors to the DNC. Bill Clinton was the one who introduced the Voter Expansion Project in a DNC video on February 26, 2014.
Activities and initiatives
In March 2014, the DNC held a press conference with university reporters to introduce the Voter Expansion Project. They particularly focused on initiatives to make it easier for students to vote, such as lessening voting restrictions and allowing student IDs to be used to vote.
On April 9, 2014, Wasserman Schultz announced four new Voter Expansion Project hires: state voter expansion directors in Ohio and Texas, along with the national deputy director and national director of knowledge management. Throughout July 2014, the DNC hired state directors in Florida, Colorado, and Wisconsin. On September 15, 2014, they announced the voter expansion staff for Iowa.
The Arbor Project, a technology initiative meant to identify unregistered Democrats and educate voters, was announced on June 5, 2014. It consisted of two parts: a data mining component using public records, turnout info, and voter file data to identify areas with potential new Democrats, and a website (IWillVote.com) to educate people on how to register and vote. Arbor Project code made use of the NGP VAN APIs to access voter file data.
2016 Democratic primaries
Main article: 2016 Democratic primaries
During the 2016 Democratic primaries, there were thousands of cases of people being unable to vote. Nearly all of these cases affected Bernie Sanders supporters, indicating a targeted disenfranchisement effort. The voting irregularities affecting Sanders supporters first came to prominence in the 2016 Arizona primary, and continued all the way to California.
Pratt Wiley expressed concern following the Arizona primary, asking people to report the issues they experienced and promising to investigate every claim:
From a Facebook post by Dawnya Dorsch Yaykin : "I just spent 37 minutes talking to Pratt Wiley (attorney), he is the National Director of Voter Expansion for the DNC. This is a big deal. He and his legal team are taking very seriously what happened in AZ yesterday and will be spending the day looking into every claim. I expressed our concerns about the DNC and MSM, and their obvious bias and corruption. He was very, very kind and shared the same concerns we have. He agrees that what happened yesterday was done on purpose and with ill intent. I suggested the first thing his department should do to start to make this right is take this story of voter suppression and fraud in AZ, and many other states to the Media. He and I exchanged our e-mail address and decided to be in touch in a few days. He needs to hear from more people, he actually said he needs to hear from 100,000 more people like me. I've decided not to give his number at this point, but his email is wileyp@DNC.org. EVERYONE needs to send him an email about our frustrations, and any personal story you may have about voter suppression. Pratt Wiley - Wileyp@dnc.org email him by the thousands!!!"
According to an email from August 4, 2016, Wiley and the Voter Expansion Project did investigate the voting issues:
Good afternoon George and thank you for your email. We are certainly aware of some of the problems you describe. We investigate these instances, whether because of systems problems in New York or California, or because of intentional actions by election administrators such as in Arizona or Kansas. We are working hard to ensure that these obstacles are removed before the November election. All the best, Pratt > Hello Mr. Wiley, > > During the recent Democratic primaries, many voters experienced issues with their voter registrations. They found their party affiliation switched from Democrat to independent or some other party, or even found themselves purged from the rolls entirely. > > Since you're the national voter expansion director for the Democratic Party, I wanted to ask if you were aware of these issues during the primary, and if so, whether you looked into them further. Even though the primaries are over, many people are still upset about not being able to vote, and are looking for answers. Thanks, > > George
- Clintons were major force behind the Voter Expansion Project
- Bill Clinton speaking about the Project
- Voter Expansion Project begins its efforts to fight restrictive voting laws
- April 2014 hiring of state staffers for the Project
- More DNC hires of voter expansion staffers
- DWS announces the Arbor Project
- Arbor Project used NGP VAN APIs
- Pratt Wiley expressed willingness to investigate claims of disenfranchisement in the 2016 Arizona primary
- Confirmation by Wiley that they investigated voting issues in the 2016 Dem primaries