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No, we can’t just get a new VAN. . .

So, at this point everyone should have heard about the data issue that happened involving the the Democrats running for President.  However, there seems to be a lot of misinformation floating around out there about what happened, along with people just having no concept of what the VAN is/is not and what is can/cannot do.

I am not committed to any candidate for 2016, but as of late have been leaning towards supporting Hillary Clinton.  However, my thoughts below do not come from a place of being biased toward one candidate or the other.  It comes from a place of being a campaign hack and using the VAN for almost 10 years.  If you want to assume that I have it out for Sen. Sanders and his campaign, just don’t.  I am not a part of some vast DNC conspiracy.  Cool?

Key Terms

VAN: This is the shorthand way to refer to VoteBuilder, a platform developed by NGP-VAN, that is a way to analyze and access Voter File informaiton

Voter File: This is a list of registered voters, that will often include name, address, phone number, and email address.  This is public information that people – campaigns, the Party, etc – can request from their Secretary of State or Elections Office.

Data: For a campaign, this is not just the basics – name and contact information.  It is a comprehensive collection of data points on a voter that help you know whether they support your candidate, etc.  This can include previous support, ID questions, or other information about a person (are they interested in a specific issue or something like that).  This information is the result of a lot of hard work by individuals – often volunteers – and reflects and helps inform the overall campaign strategy.  The VAN allows campaigns to have private data that only members of their committee can see.

Committee:  Each campaign has a committee in the VAN, with campaign staffers and volunteers having a unique log-in to the system.  To put it simply, this is a room of campaign information that only approved members have the ability to access.

Database: A Presidential campaign likely has many things that can be referred to as a database.  They will likely have a platform to handle blast emails, one that tracks donor information, one for volunteers, and one for voters.  There is not one database to rule them all. 🙂

Some of my thoughts. . .

  1.  This was not a “hack”.  Based on what has been reported, it does not appear that the Sanders campaign staffers somehow access the Hillary for America (HFA) committee in the VAN.  Depending on the circumstances, that could be a hack, but since it didn’t happen here, doesn’t apply.

It seems, instead, that there was a set of data which was private to the HFA committee that showed up as accessible to users in the Sanders campaign committee.  To put it another way – imagine if you logged in to your email, and in addition to your email, all of a sudden you noticed you were getting someone else’s.  You didn’t log directly into their account, but somehow you are seeing their information.  This is similar to what seemed to have happened here.

2.  It does not seem like the Sanders staffers were just documenting a known issue.  Based on the search logs that have been released, they completed many searched across many different states and saved information to folders on the system and shared with colleagues.  In my opinion, the pattern of the types of searches they ran and how they were saved showed that they were trying to mine the data to use for their campaign.

Others viewed this the same way:

A question was raised in @IASTartingLine’s timeline that I think also is important to consider:

If the reports that private campaign data was exposed to all of the campaigns, it is interesting that only one of the three campaigns accessed and saved data from another campaign.  If you are in the VAN, it would be obvious if you had a code or something that wasn’t yours.  At some point, the Sanders staffer made the decision to create a search using a data point that wasn’t theirs.  That to me, is problematic.  I believe the staffer that did this has lost his job, but still claims he was just trying to document the issue.  As was pointed out above, the search patterns seem to indicate otherwise.

To the staffer(s) that were involved – just admit you did something wrong. Learn from your mistake, and don’t do it again. Cool?

3.  You can think the DNC overreacted and should restore access AND that the Sanders campaign also did something wrong. These are not mutually exclusive.  However, I personally think that a brief disruption in access would be appropriate once it was discovered there was an issue.  Perhaps the DNC should reconsider their contract language to protect if things like this happen, while also having an established mechanism to get access restored. #justsayin.

In MN, per the user agreements I’ve had to sign to access the VAN, campaigns can lose access if people are misusing the system without warning. I think this makes sense and not the 10-day window that the DNC has in their contract right now. Imagine how much data they could have mined in 10 days.  Eeek.

I also think that the lawsuit was an over the top response.  As I mentioned above, the campaign did something wrong, and facing some sort of consequence is appropriate.  Playing the victim? Yeah, not really working with me.

4.  This is about more than just access to data.  Remember how pissed people were when the Patriots were spying on other campaigns to learn their signals on the field?  This is kind of like that.  It also says a lot about a campaign team and the operation they are running.  And as I explained above, the information accessed wasn’t just basic details, it was internal campaign information.

The VAN works well because we have a shared commitment to the tool, and respect that other campaign data is not ours. This action violated that trust in my opinion.

Campaign staff and volunteers spend so much time and campaign resources gathering information about voters, and for someone from another campaign to come in and attempt to use it is inappropriate.

5.  To pretend that you wouldn’t be just as pissed if your campaign’s information was taken is foolish.  Stop playing.  Keep it real.  You’d be pissed and calling for people to be fired and whatnot.  To say otherwise just is shady.  At the end of the day, we should all be mad that a campaign did something shady and call on all campaigns to do better.  The stakes are too high to have a huge internal squabble.


I’m glad that the Sanders campaign is now able to access the VAN to reach out to voters and  I hope they drop the lawsuit.  The DNC should also reassess it’s contract language to protect against instances where it appears someone is accessing data inappropriately to protect the integrity of the data and also establish a way to restore access ASAP.



20 Hours in America. . . .

There’s a lot going on in the world right now – with the bad over shadowing the good.  I have a lot of thoughts and feelings going through my mind, but at this time I am unable to translate them into something coherent.  Since my own words are lacking, I am going to share some words from President Bartlet from one of the greatest episodes of TV ever.

“The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United State of America. Thank you.”

The Saga of David Glass and the “Borrowed” Photos of Kids

Author’s note:  This is part of a series of posts by on this.  The earlier posts can be found on Facebook here, here, here, and here.  Due to the fact that there are minors featured in the pictures discussed in this post, I have blurred their faces to protect their identities. I will also give credit to the original sources of the photos as well.  Why?  Because I respect things like parental consent and intellectual property.

This year, Saint Paul played host to what were arguably the two most contentious races for City Council the city has seen in a long time.  From negative attack pieces, to lies and innuendo, the races in Wards 2 and 5 at times felt more like House of Cards than a local election.  I am writing these posts about Ward 5 even though the election is over because it is reflective of a pattern of sketchy behavior by candidate Mr. Glass and also discusses behavior that should not be left ignored since it is exploitative of minors.  Ignoring it would set a bad precedent.

After “borrowing” two pictures of kids in earlier pieces, it looks like Mr. Glass and his campaign couldn’t find pictures for two final pieces, so expanded their “borrowing” beyond Minnesota sources.

Here are the photos from two additional pieces that the Glass campaign used during the final days of the campaign:

Soccer Kids

I was able to use Google Images to search the web to find out if these were perhaps stock photos the campaign purchased for use since again, the candidate was not included in them.

The results?

The first picture came from the website for Washington Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, specifically from the section on the Children’s Playground. (aside – I like the idea of play ambassadors.  We should consider something like that here.)

The second picture came from a slideshow in the Dallas Daily News article “As Granbury families return to homes, kids find refuge on soccer field”.  The tl;dr read summary of the article?  The town of Granbury was hit by an EF4 tornado in May of 2013.  The kids in the foreground of the picture lived in the town, and because of the destruction people were not allowed in their homes so the kids didn’t have their soccer gear.  They play in a league that “does what it can to give kids who can’t afford to be in city leagues a chance to play.”

I again have these basic questions for David Glass and his team to answer about these photos featuring minors that appeared in at least 4 pieces of his campaign literature:

1. Does the candidate have photo releases from the parents of all of the kids pictured?  (I won’t ask him to post this proof, because these kids have been exploited enough by Mr. Glass)

2.  Did the candidate secure the rights to use these photos?  All you have to do is share proof of payment or a use agreement from any of the sources (SPPS, Pioneer Press, Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, or the Dallas Daily News)

My guess, based on earlier statements from Mr. Glass is that the answer to both of the above questions is no because of his statement from Facebook when asked about the photos of Johnson High School students:

screenshot-www facebook com 2015-11-05 18-07-57

Again, my response:

  1. I don’t think that the word public means what you think it means.
  2. David Glass and his team seem to think they are above the rules and don’t need to follow them, ever.
  3. David Glass seems to think it is a-ok for him or anyone else to use any picture they find on the internet of a minor in any way they see fit. Um. . . .in no way is this acceptable. It also, yet again, violates copyright law.

Mr. Glass, I am happy you didn’t win on November 3.  The City of Saint Paul deserves much better than this and you should be ashamed of what you have done with these picture of minors.  I hope the Saint Paul Public Schools take appropriate action against their use, since as I said earlier, to ignore this sets a bad precedence.

I doubt he will ever respond to these questions – or if he does I’d have to imagine he would place blame on some nameless campaign staffer.  But I had to raise these questions.   And for candidates and campaigns – do better and respect the work of creative professionals as well as the privacy of minors and the wishes of their parents.


A glimpse inside

In a recent post (The Lies I Tell Myself), I shared what it is like to struggle with anxiety.

It was a hard post to write, and I still sometimes want to delete it and just hide from it.  But, it is a part of what makes me the person I am, and if you’re going to judge me for it, that’s on you.

For most people, the thoughts that anxiety causes don’t make sense.  Or they really don’t understand what the thought process is.  Well, thanks to Sara Bareilles, I can offer a small glimpse of what types of thoughts go through my head when I have to meet new people, or really just interact with people in general.

I stick with real things,
Usually facts and figures.
When information’s in its place,
I minimize the guessing game.
Guess what?
I don’t like guessing games.
Or when I feel things,
Before I know the feelings.
How am I supposed to operate,
If I’m just tossed around by fate?
Like on an unexpected date?


Sara Bareilles “When He Sees Me”


Aside: This song is from a musical that she wrote the music and lyrics for called “Waitress“.  It just did a short run in Boston and will be hitting Broadway starting next March.  A selection of songs from this show was recently released, and I took a short break from listening to “Hamilton” on repeat to listen to it.  Both are really good albums and I want to try to get to NYC to see both.


The Lies I Tell Myself

Now this post has been a long time coming, and I’m sure that I’ll have second thoughts after it is posted and be tempted to take it down and run away.  However, it’s time that I say this and maybe it will help someone the way similar posts have helped me.

It doesn’t mean that I’m not scared to write this and hit post.  It doesn’t mean that I’m not afraid it will cause people to look at or treat me differently.  It doesn’t mean that I’m “cured” or anything like that.  It simply means that I’m finally able to share with others this glimpse into myself and the extreme vulnerability it brings along with it.

Let’s start with this question: What do others seen when looking at me?

Someone with an advanced degree and a good job?  Someone with friends and people that care about them?  A person with a unique set of skills and talents that can be used to help others?  An intelligent person?  A strong, confident woman?

But it’s all false.

Why can’t they see it too?

Each and every day I tell myself a series of lies.  Some days, it’s only a few.  Other days, my thoughts are overwhelmed with them.  Depending on the day, I believe them to varying degrees – but the fact remains, I struggle with these lies, and what they do to me, everyday.

Here are some examples of the lies I tell myself:

  1. I am not good at anything.
  2. Any success I experience is the result of luck, not my actions.
  3. Nobody likes me; they are just being nice to me because that’s what people do.
  4. I’m alone in all of this.
  5. Everyone hates me.  I have never and will never find a place to fit in.
  6. I’m not smart or intelligent.
  7. I’ve clearly done something to make that person hate me, so I should just avoid them.
  8. I’m going to get in trouble for something, why can’t it just happen now?
  9. I’m going to let that person down.
  10. Why bother?  I’m not going to be able to succeed or make anything happen.

You’re probably thinking, “No way you think all of those things!  There is so much evidence to the contrary all around you!”

My response: “Nope. There’s not. Duh.”

You see, this is what anxiety does to me.  It makes the truth next to impossible to believe.  It makes it hard for me to believe in myself and my talent.  It makes me doubt that anyone actually likes me, and instead is just using me as a way to get something.

I can’t internalize the positive but am a magnet to the negative.  You can point out things that disprove each of the lies above, but I won’t, I can’t use it to change my mind.  That’s another fun aspect of anxiety – it robs you of your ability to think rationally and use logic to solve problems.

What is frustrating, is that I use my problem solving skills for many many things – everything from what to have for breakfast to how to solve problems at work to fixing some tricky CSS to get a website to look how I want it to.  There are a number of things that come quite naturally to me that others struggle with.  I would give anything to not have to struggle to believe in myself and shake myself free from the weights that anxiety (and its friend depression) put on my shoulders.  I would trade the ability to do graphic design to not have to second guess every interaction I have with people in fear messing up.  I want to believe that I am smart and not have someone pointing that out cause me to shrink away and feel uncomfortable.

But I can’t.  It’s not that easy.

What people don’t realize is that I’m struggling internally to avoid making those lies become a reality.  I will sacrifice myself in order to avoid letting people down or failing.  I will give up my time, energy, knowledge just because the alternative – dealing with what is bothering me and trying to fight the anxiety – is just too much right now.  If I ignore it, it’ll go away, right?

It also bleeds into all parts of my life.  When I’m on my game and I’m able to limit the lies I tell myself, I’m able to get a lot done and not give too much time to my anxiety.  However, when things start to slip – it’s all downhill from there.  People around me may not see it because I’ve trained myself over the years to hide and put up a strong facade.

I spend hours thinking over things that make me more anxious and stressed.  I fear even basic human interaction since I don’t have the emotional capacity to deal.  I want to run away and just hide and be in a space where I feel comfortable and can control what is going on around me.

The alternative?  High levels of frustration. Anger. Racing thoughts, racing heartbeat, rapid breathing, body prepared to flee at a moment’s notice, a tightness in your stomach – or in other words, a panic attack.

They are not fun, and when my anxiety is at its worst, I spend a majority of my energy fending one off leaving me exhausted.

I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

But one thing I have come to learn is that this is a part of who I am.  It’s a struggle I will face moving forward and there is no magic wand to make everything better.  This is one of the biggest issues with things like this – people don’t understand that I can’t just take their positive feedback and use that to keep my anxiety at bay.  I can’t just put on a smiley face and be happy.  I have to use various techniques – like with other illnesses – to limit my symptoms and avoid flare ups.  It’s not easy, but it’s a part of who I am.

I want people to understand that if I need to retreat into myself, it’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I just can’t handle more things.  I want people to understand that just because I have anxiety, it doesn’t mean that I’m weak or less skilled.  I basically just want people to know – because I’m sick of hiding or giving vague answers to questions instead of just owning up to what is really bothering me.

I also need some things from those around me.  I need to not be made to feel as though I am broken.  I need support.  I need people to remind me at times that taking care of me isn’t selfish.  I need people I can laugh with; people to accept me for who I am.  I need people to not ask too much of me, and understand if I need a break.

Right now, I’m in a place where I’m generally not happy.  The things that I would normally find interesting and enjoyable seem like a chore and I try to find ways to avoid.  This isn’t a good place to be in because it is letting the lies win.  It may lead to me letting people down and people hating me because I was afraid to ask for help.

That needs to end.  I need to know that it is ok to ask for help (something I often tell others), and learn to trust those around me.  I need to take small steps to get back to a place where I feel at ease and not checking around every corner for the next huge obstacle.  I need to know that anyone that judges me for this has no place being in my life.

I need to feel calm, happy, and like myself again.  And not like I’m living the lies I tell myself each day.

I’ve been there before, and I can get there again, I just need to keep trying and not be afraid to ask for help.

Maybe then those lies won’t seem as real.


Edit:  Right as I was debating whether or not to hit publish, this post from Thought Catalog came across on my Facebook feed.  Oddly helpful since I find myself feeling so tired right now.

5 things the Minnesota Legislature should just do already. . .

Here are a few things that I wish the Minnesota Legislature would just do already.

Not because they are popular.  Not because they are easy.  But because they are the decent thing to do.

1.  Housing for all.

5 Cities and States That Are Ending Homelessness

Instead of Criminalizing Homelessness, Utah Is Doing the Opposite — And It’s Working

2.  Easier access to basic healthcare services for all – including dental and vision – and nutritious fresh food options.

World Health Day: “Basic healthcare services need to be accessible to all”

Why Are We Giving The Least To The Kids That Need The Most in School?

3.  Universal Pre-K.

5 Reasons We Need Universal Pre-K

Universal Pre-K in Massachusetts: Let’s start the conversation

4.  Guaranteed sick and safe time.

5.  Legalize industrial hemp.

Why You Can’t Get Stoned from Smoking Hemp

Industrial Hemp: A Win-Win For The Economy And The Environment