“You can’t really Google, ‘Which candidates most align with me on transit and zoning tradeoffs?’
So said Steve Murch, a veteran Seattle entrepreneur who has spent the past few weeks trying to come up with a solution to that challenge. His answer is Alignvote, a new site that matches voters with candidates who have similar values.
Over the past few days, Murch has been circulating a questionnaire among candidates running in the August Seattle City Council races. More than 30 have responded. For those who don’t respond, Murch populates the questionnaire with remarks they’ve made at public forums.
Voters who visit Alignvote.com fill out the same questionnaire and then the app matches them with the most aligned candidate running in their district.
Murch is starting with the Seattle City Council races but hopes to scale the tool to other elections and possibly other regions as well.
In a blog post, Murch describes himself as “an independent, issues-oriented voter.” But he notes that “Alignvote doesn’t care about my personal political stances.”
“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,” he wrote. “That’s it. That one, simple premise is the essence of Alignvote.”
The project is Murch’s effort to use his technical background to make the political process more transparent. Before jumping into civic work, he developed the recipe-planning app called BigOven, which he sold to Aisle Ahead in 2018. The entrepreneur previously sold VacationSpot.com to Expedia; he also spent six years at Microsoft in the 90s and graduated from Harvard Business School in 1991.
Alignvote isn’t Murch’s first foray into civic life. He volunteers with Speak Out Seattle, an advocacy group that has hosted several City Council candidate forums over the past few weeks. Murch said he developed Alignvote independently from Speak Out Seattle. The group is controversial in some circles, with critics claiming its members take an anti-homeless approach.
Asked about the controversy, Murch said, it “was the result of a very cynical, dishonest disinformation campaign that attempted to get candidates to boycott the forums.”
“It included inaccurate conflation of two very different groups, with different goals, views, approaches, leaders, and stances,” he added. The second group is Safe Seattle, a neighborhood organization that mapped the locations of people living on the streets and spread misinformation.
Murch added that one of his motivations behind Alignvote is to “encourage more, and not less, transparency and directness.”
“I am very tired of groups attempting to pressure candidates into participating, or not participating in some open communication venue solely because they are afraid that their narrative might be challenged,” he told GeekWire. “We are not made better, nor are solutions closer at hand, by shouting down and silencing. If the narrative is accurate and evidence-based, it stands up very well to scrutiny.”
Murch is soliciting additional questions to add to the Alignvote survey. He also added a feature that allows candidates to elaborate on their positions in response to feedback.
As for what comes next, Murch is considering licensing the platform to civic or media organizations. He’s also toying with the idea of making the technology open-source.
“It’s very early days, and this is tremendously exciting to imagine at a national scale,” he said. “What if we had something like this for the crowded Democratic field of 2020?”
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to note that the Seattle City Council primaries are in August.