The well-worn refrain that every election is more important than the last appears to carry a particular weight this year. The stakes, all sides of the political spectrum agree, are high. But for New York City's tech sector, this election has also emerged as a test of our willingness to meet the kind of civic commitments that our outsized role in the public debate requires.
New York City's tech sector, now second in a ranking of global startup ecosystems, has swelled in size, influence, and potential in just a few short years. With the hangover effects of the dot-com bust long worn off, tech companies and startups are poised to reshape and grow bedrock industries in New York City, from finance and enterprise to hospitality and transportation.
The future of our city is intricately interwoven with the health and trajectory of our tech sector. Now more than ever, technology leaders, employees, investors, and students born and raised in the five boroughs have a meaningful impact on New Yorkers’ lives.
For the city’s tech companies, this expanding economic footprint and public voice must be increasingly accompanied by a sense of civic duty. And this civic duty--in the form of voting--must exist despite New Yorkers' less-than-stellar registration and voting rates. New York State has some of the worst voter registration rates in the country and ranked 49th in voter turnout during the last midterm election, meaning that far too many New Yorkers aren’t making their voices heard. Unfortunately, we’ve let low voter participation become the norm for younger New Yorkers, tech workers included.
Decisions are made by those who show up. The issues that will determine the fate of the tech industry — whether it’s net neutrality, cyber security, or autonomous vehicles — not to mention all of the other issues up for national debate, will be decided by the elected officials who prevail on the local, state, and national levels in the upcoming election cycle. We can’t let these choices happen without our input.
That’s why Tech:NYC, working with some of our key company partners, has launched #TechTurnsOut. This voter registration and turnout initiative will encourage tech companies and employees across the city to do what they do best: use technical tools to solve problems. In this case, the problem just so happens to be fundamental to the future of our democracy. .
#TechTurnsOut encompasses a number of programs that will help the tech sector get involved in this election, including a partnership with National Voter Registration Day to place voter registration materials in offices across the city. We’re also encouraging companies to close for Election Day and are providing members of the tech community with resources that make it easier to register to vote, remember to vote, and make informed decisions on November 8th.
We’re especially confident that #TechTurnsOut will make a difference this year because of our amazing partners, including AppNexus, AOL, Bitly, Etsy, Foursquare, JustWorks, Kickstarter, Twitter, and others. These companies collectively employ thousands of young people, whose participation in this election alone would significantly boost New York City’s voter turnout. By getting their employees involved and showing their users that #TechTurnsOut, we believe our partners will set a positive precedent that gets even more New Yorkers civically engaged.
It’s a perfect way for the city’s tech sector to give back — to use our unique capacity to create, convene, and inspire social action to combat the crisis of low voter participation.
It’s not too late for members of the tech community — who usually move pretty fast — to enroll in #TechTurnsOut and get involved. And focusing solely on building innovative products that create new avenues of opportunity isn’t enough. With so much promise and potential, our community has a responsibility to meet our fellow citizens at the voting booth and shape, together, what our future looks like.
To learn more, go here: www.technyc.org/techturnsout.