Two months ago, Austin’s tech industry was gearing up to become more politically involved in local elections, with ambitious plans to launch a political action committee, a get-out-the-vote drive and candidate endorsements.
The tech industry — which employs more than 100,000 people in Central Texas — is becoming more politically organized as a response to recent votes by the Austin City Council over stricter regulations for ride-hailing companies and short-term rental owners.
But with such a narrow window before the elections, some of those plans never materialized.
A group called Tech Votes launched a tech-oriented get-out-the-vote drive. The newly formed lobbying group Austin Tech Alliance developed an elections app geared toward the tech community.
But the alliance didn’t form a political action committee, donate to campaigns or offer candidate endorsements, deciding instead to focus on the baby step of drawing the tech community into the political conversation, said David Edmonson, executive director of the Austin Tech Alliance.
“We decided to take a more issue-based approach, which is based on education and engaging folks in the tech sector so they know what’s going on in city and state government,” Edmonson said.
Taking policy positions and backing candidates could come later, he said.
“Exactly what role we’ll play beyond education, we’ve yet to determine. It’s a tough way to introduce yourself to policy makers by throwing your hat into an election on one side or another when you haven’t built up the political capital. We have to find our voice, based on what the tech community tells us it wants.”
Political consultants interviewed earlier this year about the tech industry's political efforts said there is potential for the industry to hold significant sway over Austin's local elections.
Tech Votes, a group headed up by Aceable's Erin Defossé that plans to seek nonprofit status, launched in September. Defossé said the group had a discernible impact on this election - though they don’t have a way of measuring how many tech workers voted.
Tech Votes created a website full of election information, such as how to get free rides to the polls and a link to a voters guide. They also had about 20 volunteer voter registrars who work at tech companies registering people to vote. Defossé said the group doesn't know yet how many people were registered from these efforts.
The group also bought ads on Facebook and Instagram, he said.
That’s resulted in at least 5,000 people coming to their website and looking at their resources page, Defossé said, and about 4,000 people have looked at the voter’s guide from their site. The group also hosted a Tech Votes party at Silicon Labs to celebrate the end of early voting, featuring state Sen. Kirk Watson.
Check out our photo gallery of the Tech Votes happy hour
The Austin Tech Alliance launched a free elections app that includes information on where Austin City Council members stand on various issues, such the mobility bond, short-term rentals and mandatory background checks for ride-hailing drivers. It also has as a dynamic map of polling locations, and estimated times it will take to vote on election day at various polling locations.
The group also has hosted meet-ups and gatherings aimed at getting out the tech community vote. On Election Day on Tuesday, it will hold an election watch party at Capital Factory.
A third group, the Austin Technology Council, launched a policy coalition this year aimed at lobbying City Council and the Legislature. But ATC took a different approach than the Austin Tech Alliance.
From the start, ATC said it wouldn’t be donating or endorsing in Austin City Council races. The group did endorse the $720 million mobility bond, which will primarily make changes to some of the city's main arteries, and install more sidewalks trails and bikeways.
This marks the first time the Austin Technology Council, which was formed in 1992, has endorsed a ballot measure. Under the leadership of CEO Barbary Brunner, the Austin Technology Council has become more politically engaged.
Brunner said to promote ATC's support of the mobility bond the group hosted a get-out-the vote party on the first day of early voting. ATC was joined in this effort by the Austin Tech Alliance and Tech Votes, she said.
Brunner said ATC also posted an article in Medium about its support for the bond and sent out e-mail mailers urging people to vote “yes.” The group also hosted two meet-and-greats with City Council members.
After next week’s elections, the Austin Tech Alliance plans to turn its focus toward the upcoming Texas legislative session, said Dan Graham, CEO of BuildASign.com and a Tech Alliance leader.
The group is partnering with Tech Net to host a panel on Nov. 14 at Capital Factory to discuss plans by Texas lawmakers to introduce legislation targeting transgender bathrooms.
Graham said the Austin Tech Alliance will follow legislation banning transgender restrooms, which he said would be bad for the tech industry. The group also will be watching possible legislation regarding short-term rentals and ride-hailing.
“The challenge is in the execution, and how we go forward from here,” Graham said. “But everybody is very willing to go down that road together.”