Schools

Catching up with Sangeeth Peruri LASD trustee and VoterCircle

VoterCircle was one of the campaign tools used by the Dems to win the Alabama Senate Seat vacated by Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Written by lalahpolitico

Constituents of the Los Altos School District are curious and even nosey souls.  They wonder about LASD Trustee Peruri’s flashy business interests – an office building on San Antonio Road and a software start-up — VoterCircle — targeting U.S. election campaign managers. Mr. Peruri developed both these interests during his current term as trustee. According to my visit to the the Mountain View Planning Department a few weeks ago, the office building project was trying to reactivate some 2014 building permits about signage.

But let’s check in on VoterCircle in some depth. After all, earlier this month the Alabama special election for Attorney General Jeff Session’s vacated Senate seat, was won by Democrat Doug Jones — in part with the help of VoterCircle.


What’s new with VoterCircle Inc?
A lot.

Two years ago we wrote about this email blasting service for election campaign managers with angst. At that time VoterCircle’s potential for generating spam  was concerning.  It was unclear whether supporters’ complete contact email lists could simply be consolidated by the client campaign manager without consent.  These issues, if they ever were issues, seem to be fixed.

Sangeeth Peruri, LASD trustee, CEO VoterCircle

The marketing for VoterCircle has been enhanced and the number of endorsements and customers locally and nationwide have grown. In the website blog, Sangeeth Peruri says he has had contact with around 500 elections nationwide. This spring VoterCircle was used by Democrats to help win in Virginia and to help in the Alabama Doug Jones race for the U.S. Senate.

The new brand messaging says “contact voters friend-to-friend.”  It’s “friend-to-friend outreach.”  Clearly the VoterCircle  seems to be preparing for a busy 2018 election campaign season.

The VoterCircle organization is lean and agile, seemingly with a combination of full-time and some part time staff who work on a project basis. They seem to be dispersed from Los Altos to India. The business side of VoterCircle Inc. is still listed as the Peruri home address. They use  Digital Ocean as their internet server platform provider so the data resides in the U.S.

The web site’s blog page — written by Trustee Peruri — offers useful advice to “down ballot” candidates. His latest post advises local candidates to get to know all PTA presidents past and present.

Privacy Info VIDEO on Voter Circle Web site, Excerpt March 2 2018


What’s changed in the
VoterCircle technology

The From: field  on the campaign letter in your email inbox in 2016 used to be from familiarfriendname@yahoo.com or familiarfriendname @google.com…etc., now it’s from familiarfriendname@votercircle.com

In 2016…  when you received a campaign email from your friend,  it looked like it came from your friend’s email provider, e.g. familiarfriendname@yahoo.com.  And actually it was run through those providers servers. At that time these servers —like google and yahoo– would cut off your account’s outbound service if your friend attempted to send out more than about 100 emails in 24 hours — she  would look like a spammer to google and yahoo.

It seems that since 2016 the big providers like google mail, yahoo mail, have requested that VoterCircle and other similar 3rd parties please stop routing friend-to-friend email through google/yahoo servers…making ordinary people possibly look like spammers. [Update/correction: In the past, even when Votercircle used the yahoo.com and google.com domains, the email was routed through VoterCircle servers. ]

Now in 2018 the campaign emails are sent via... familiarfriendname@votercircle.com   

 




Backstory: When Lalahpolitico received a February 2018  email about the Judge Persky recall election campaign, I thought it might be a hack of VoterCircle or of my friend!  It came from Friendfirst.Friendlast@VoterCircle.com.

To me it looked like Friendfirst Friendlast either had taken a job at VoterCircle or that there had been some kind of spam hacking of her email account. I almost marked the campaign email as “spam” in my email client. Would that prevent me from getting future campaign letters from friends/acquaintances through VoterCircle? Since then,  I have learned VoterCircle seems safe.  I won’t blacklist the VoterCircle domain in my email client, because I definitely would like to receive many and various campaign emails in the future.

Sources: 1. Peruri said that after 2016 google, yahoo and other mail ISPs had requested changes to VoterCircle. 2. My friend confirmed she definitely sent the the Persky recall campaign email. There was no hack.

Image: Excerpt 2018 VoterCircle website


Info on what personal info is being collected

From the Voter Circle website March 2, 2018. Nothing to worry about here. Really. The above is just a small part of the ecosystem of commonplace and ordinary precision ad-targeting by Google and Facebook, and the  adoption of those online branding, outreach, and sales techniques by the Bush and then the Obama campaigns, and of course the Hillary and Donald campaigns. Before that there was direct snail mail. Are you old enough to remember that? Marketers have been buying lists from Experian and Axciom, etc., and matching Voter IDs to all kinds of personal information…e.g., your magazine subscriptions, etc. There has long been a digital campaign arms race between Republicans and Democrats. The Obama 2012 campaign had a FB app which obtained supporters’ friends detailed data directly without the friends consent.  In 2014 FB stopped allowing FB apps to obtain friends detailed data in this way.  Instead in 2015, FB created its first ad auctions which allow purchase of a “custom audience” and also a “lookalike audience”…at a very fine scale…audience of 1 according to the Trump digital campaign guy. So FB micro-targeting was still possible like it was in 2012. Lalahpolitico:  It costs more to do now?


Improved Privacy and Security

In 2016, VoterCircle always had the capability to match a campaign’s VOTER FILE with a supporter’s uploaded contacts address book/lists.  A friend of yours might not know if you live within a certain jurisdiction or not, if you are even registered to vote, if you are Rep/Dem/other.   But when your friend uploads her contacts to Voter Circle, VoterCircle working behind its “patent pending privacy wall”  trims out the contacts which are not qualified to vote in that jurisdiction or primary (outside California). Then your friend can modify the campaign canned letter if she desires and hit the SEND button to her remaining list.

A campaign supporter sends a campaign email to her contacts…behind VoterCircle’s “privacy wall.” It withholds  her contact list contents from the campaign. Only the results — by VoterFileID — are communicated to the campaign.

As Lalahpolitico understands it, in this 2018 version of VoterCircle  , the campaign manager can see the number of emails your friend sent, and the number of  opens and clicks through, but not the contact info itself.  Your friend can see which contacts opened the mail and clicked.

And the campaign manager can look at her Voter file on the other side of the “privacy wall”  and see which Voter File IDs received/ opened/clicked an email. If a supporter’s friend does open the campaign email and does click through to a landing page,  the friend can opt-into the official campaign list, providing an email address and other info.  Only with the friend’s consent will the campaign manager get a friend’s email address and phone number or cell phone number.

VoterCircle gets 30% click through rates using supporters’ lists of contacts, which is way higher than the 2-8% CTR of  typical “cold-call”  lists.

All campaign manager statistics in VoterCircle including open rates, survey responses, volunteer actions are tracked and can be viewed by individual voter IDs.

Peruri says the emails get 40-60%% open rates and  click through rates have been as high as 30%.  CTR they’ve seen has been 5% to 30% with a typical range of 10-20%.  He says the systems can match about 80% to 90% of a supporter’s contact records to the campaign’s voter file records.

There are mobile apps for apple and android expected soon.

Contact: sang@votercircle.com


Image: NGP VAN –
Democratic Party’s Database
and Campaign System

NGPVAN is 100% affiliated with the Democratic Party. It is the owner of Democratic campaign digital data across the country, and state by state.

VoterCircle Integration with
3rd Party Data and Platforms…
used by Campaign/Cause Managers

All data collected within VoterCircle can be exported in a .CSV format and imported into any [campaign] software platform that supports .CSV format.  But more important, VoterCircle now has direct two-way integration with the Democratic Party’s NGP VAN. You can directly import a VAN voter file into VoterCircle.  All of your VoterCircle data can be automatically synced to your NGPVAN account. VoterCircle also has worked with the other top 5, blue-leaning campaign platforms.  It can work with non-partisan Nationbuilder.

[Lalahpolitico: NGPVAN is the official platform of the Democratic National Committee.  All voter and campaign data through the years is there.  Well, in so, so blue state California, NGPVSN  is obviously the first platform for which VoterCircle should choose to develop 2-way integration. Democrats are the largest market. FYI: From NGPVAN and other election platforms, campaign managers routinely match  “3rd party data” to match to your voterID and and any other personally identifying information you share.]

Pricing/ Who can buy VoterCircle

The basic service is FREE on a monthly basis to down ballot campaigns.  Any small campaign which is non-partisan can be served. Trustee Peruri says 7 of the 9 candidates in the last Palo Alto city council race used VoterCircle. There is a optional $500 fee for setup and training, which Peruri says is not often requested.

At the local level of non-partisan races, VoterCircle is open to all candidates. At the State and National level, VoterCircle is for only Dems and “progressive” causes.

Voter Circle will not solicit Republicans for mid-tier California races, but may serve them.  Further up the ballot, VoterCircle has now self-identified as Blue, Democratic Party affiliated, and supportive of “progressive” advocacy causes ONLY.  As one moves up ballot, monthly pricing rises to $150 for volunteer acquisition features, $250 a month adds in segmenting and targeting as well. Pricing page.

Contact: sang@votercircle.com

More Examples: Locally – for the Judge Persky recall – both the pro-recall and the con-recall campaigns are using VoterCircle. In the 2018 State Superintendent of Education race, Marshall Tuck, a registered Democrat, is endorsed by the Association of California School Administrators. His opponent is Democrat Tony Thurmand, who is endorsed by California Teachers Association – aka the union. Both can use VoterCircle at professional level pricing if they wish.


Supported email service
contact lists

“VoterCircle supports direct contact import from AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, SBC/AT&T, Windows Live and Yahoo. VoterCircle also supports manual import of .vcf, .txt or .csv from numerous applications including Apple, Comcast, iCloud, LinkedIn, Outlook and Thunderbird.” — from VoterCircle website

Lalahpolitico: Notice that a supporter CANNOT download their Facebook friends’ contact info to the VoterCircle App — only downloadable are contacts from email services. VoterCircle does not contact supporter’s friends through FB ads or any other FB pathway. VoterCircle is NOT a FB app. It is a web app now and is expected to be a mobile  iOS and Android app later this year.

The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica brouhaha: From 2007 to 2014 it was possible for a Facebook app to ask permission to get all of a user’s Facebook friends and ALL their info. [ We are talking about what the Cambridge Analytica financed PersonalityQuiz app did between 2007 and 2012 — harvest FB friends’ detailed profiles and data.] The Obama 2012 campaign made good use of this feature with its own 2012 campaign FB app. In the last 6 days of the campaign, the FB app could send each supporter a list of up to 6 of their FB friends, who as the backend analysis indicated, needed a person-to-person nudge to remember to vote. Earlier in the campaign the FB app was used to let supporters urge FB friends to register to vote. It also was a way to obtain cell phone numbers–exceedingly important in reaching the 18-24 year olds who don’t have any landlines.  Is that 2012 Obama campaign FB data still in the Democratic party NPG VAN database?  I suppose so, but it’s now 4 years old…After 2015 FB limited FB apps to acquiring just a small amount of data by user consent. But at the same time,  FB created micro-targeting ad auctions for “custom audiences” and “lookalike audiences” which campaigns can use to do the same thing as 2012 rules allowed.


Lalahpolitico: Advice to
down ballot campaigns

You’d be foolish not to try Voter Circle for your campaign — council, hospital district, water district, community college district, etc. [Except if you are running for the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees as a non-union endorsed candidate, then forget it.]  Maybe try to raise the $500 to pay for the VoterCircle setup fee and training; or raise it to upgrade from a free account to a higher service level ($150)  in the final months of your campaign.


Lalahpolitico: Advice to Locally Politically Active Citizens

It is safe to use VoterCircle. You are NOT compromising your friend because you are NOT giving the info you have about your friend to the campaign.

It is safe to support campaigns you approve of through Voter Circle by sharing some of your contacts and maybe by adding a little something personal to the canned  campaign message. At this time VoterCircle has never had, nor has now,  a connection to Facebook or Facebook apps.

[Thus following advice has nothing much to do with VoterCircle…It’s ok to keep your FB account if you have one.  But do two things from with Facebook. 1) ratchet up your privacy settings. 2) for all your web apps, stop using Facebook [or Google] as your login password manager. Set up the web app account with an email.  This includes not setting up a VoterCircle Account with FB or Google.  Buy a real password manager instead.]

“How to Reduce Your Exposure on Facebook, or Cut Ties Altogether”
The Wall Street Journal

Here are the tools you need to turn off some of Facebook Inc.’s creepiest, snoopiest features, or end your relationship with the social network completely. Read the full WSJstory    Shared from Apple News


Lalahpolitico: Advice to Citizens
not involved locally

It is kinder to NOT vote in a race when you have no time to develop your own opinion. Let the well-informed voters hash it out between themselves.

Where I grew up, one didn’t vote on a candidate race or on an issue if one knew nothing, if one hadn’t done any homework.  You didn’t just copy the sample ballot of your neighbor if you knew little or nothing.  You didn’t vote a certain way because your civics teacher told you so or the morning newspaper had made endorsements.  Instead good people just left that part of the ballot blank… because they hadn’t formed an educated opinion. NOT VOTING is a moral option.

I’ve always eaten my own dog food.  I didn’t vote for anyone beneath state governor till I was 40, including state initiatives.  I didn’t vote down ballot on the city council and school district level till I was 55.  I still don’t vote on local judges. There are a lot of people I respect locally, but just because I regard someone as an expert about this or that, I would just feel lazy and like an irresponsible citizen copying their voting decision…when they are bold enough to share their voting plans with me. I guess the secret ballot is not so secret anymore.

And quit a few voters do choose NOT to vote.  In the 2016 election 3,528 voters who voted in the LASD GG parcel tax election didn’t bother to vote in the 2 way school board race. See.Chart 7 in this post.  I assume they knew nothing about the school board candidates and therefore chose not to vote for either school board candidate.

 


Resources:

Podcast: 45 minutes.  Peruri starts speaking at minute 3:00

Election University

Episode: EU011- Campaign Tools review: VoterCircle with Sangeeth Peruri

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/eu011-campaign-tools-review-votercircle/id1325933590?i=1000405117936&mt=2

If you use a different podcast provider just search for Election University.


Description:
Peruri gives a a good explanation of how the software works to the competent interviewer team.  And as an extra bonus for us local readers,  there is some fascinating personal color about how Mr. Peruri felt about his 2014 school board election…the Election University interviewer dubs the account a David vs. Goliath story.  2014 LASD Candidate John Swan wants to mention that that $120,000 vs. $4,000 in campaign spending Peruri describes, omits mention of  unknown  dollars of support provided by teacher unions to Mr. Peruri.

The “fake news” that so rattled Peruri in his verbal account of this 2014 election on this podcast, turns out to refer to “posts on facebook and nextdoor.com propagated by community members, not paid for, created or spread by 2014 candidates Swan or McClatchie.”  Lalah received this explanation from Mr. Peruri via email.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

About the author

lalahpolitico

Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past couple of years.