Political Convention Innovation: An Interview With Microsoft’s Director Of Campaigns & Elections

Earlier this month the 2012 Presidential Election went into high gear with the Republican and Democratic National Conventions taking place in Tampa, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina, respectively. Though not a delegate or party member, Microsoft was a major force at both conventions, providing critical technologies and services that support and enhance the democratic process. We caught up with Stan Freck, Director of Campaigns & Elections at Microsoft, who spearheaded many of the efforts at the conventions and who was present at both to experience it all. He was kind enough to answer some of our questions and even showed us some pictures of his time there. (Note: This interview originally appeared on Publicyte’s sister blog, The Bright Side of Government.)

Microsoft’s Director of Campaigns & Elections Stan Freck at the DNCC Tech Help Desk that Microsoft supported

Bright Side Staff: Why did Microsoft (and the tech sector writ large) think it’s so important to have such a big presence at the conventions?

Stan Freck: We believe in being engaged in the democratic process overall and this is part of that engagement. For us, it’s about providing our technology and professional services as tools to help ensure successful, dynamic conventions. A lot of this comes down to the fact that we want to provide our technology to find solutions to challenges. We can use our expertise to help the conventions run more efficiently while providing a better experience for convention attendees.

Bright Side Staff: How does this differ from Microsoft’s technological partnership with the Conventions in the past?

Stan Freck: Microsoft has been involved in every convention since 2000. This year was important because technology has advanced in many ways – even since 2008. At both conventions, we provided a range of new technology solutions that simply weren’t available at this scale four years ago. From cloud computing solutions, to Skype, to large-scale multi-touch devices from our recent acquisition, Perceptive Pixel, to live-streaming the conventions and our “Conversations with the Next Generation” youth town hall events on Xbox LIVE, we were able to provide cutting-edge solutions to help the conventions run more efficiently and ensure a better convention experience. We also provided infrastructure to help the convention committees and host committees do their jobs, with some of that running on Office 365, our cloud based communication and collaboration tools. Additionally, we provided solutions built on Dynamics CRM Online to help run the GOP convention and teamed up with a partner, Interknowlogy, to deliver a custom app that allowed delegations to place their votes from the convention floor at the Democratic Convention. With Skype and Xbox, it really felt like Microsoft technology was more visible and more available to touch than ever before at both of this year’s conventions.

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) using the Votermapping app from Labels & Lists on a Perceptive Pixel machine

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) using Skype Studios for a media interview

Xbox’s Horacio Ochoa showing the Election 2012 livestream to Bloomberg TV

Bright Side Staff: How did location affect Microsoft’s participation in the Conventions?

Stan Freck: Microsoft is making near and long-term investments in Tampa and Charlotte. These efforts build on Microsoft’s long-term collaboration with both regions to help youth realize new opportunities through educational development and support. Where in previous conventions, providers often came to town just for the conventions and left behind little more than some devices; Microsoft is providing applications and services that will have both near-term and long-term benefits for the Charlotte and Tampa regions. For example, our partnership with the people and organizations of the Charlotte region includes a range of training, education and community programs like the Microsoft IT Academy. Similarly, Microsoft’s efforts in Tampa to modernize in-classroom teaching using Microsoft technologies are working to help boost students’ technology skills, and emphasize the value of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning.

Also in Tampa, Microsoft has teamed up with a partner, NC4, and the Tampa Police Department on a jointly funded public safety initiative aimed at modernizing the department’s systems used for crime analysis, reporting and reduction, and all running on Microsoft SharePoint and SQL Server technologies. And in Charlotte, Microsoft teamed up with a partner, Tribridge, and the City of Charlotte to develop a system running on Dynamics CRM for issuing all permits needed for the convention and well beyond after the convention leaves town.

Bright Side Staff: Can you tell us about some of the more exciting events and initiatives that took place in Tampa and Charlotte?

Stan Freck: The Xbox LIVE Election 2012 hub live-streamed election-related coverage including our “Conversations with the Next Generation” events. In addition, we added an interactivity layer to the coverage at both elections. This allowed Xbox LIVE subscribers to respond to daily polls as well as live polling during the streamed speeches each night from the convention floors. The results of these were then over-laid on the content so viewers could see what the rest of the audience thought – truly interactive TV come to life!

And in each city, the Atlantic and National Journal hosted “Conversations with the Next Generation” Town Halls, underwritten by Microsoft. These one-of-a-kind events brought together top leaders from politics, media, business, and social policy for a dialogue on critical issues with students and America’s young and emerging workforce. The event reached audiences around the country, streaming on the digital platforms of The Atlantic and National Journal—and through a live stream on the Xbox LIVE Election 2012 hub.

Behind the scenes off the main convention floor, some of the RNC attendees were able to see and interact with an 82-inch Perceptive Pixel Inc. (PPI) “magic wall” display to run the Election App. We worked to enhance the native PPI data sets with additional voter and demographic data from another partner, Labels and Lists. The resulting experience allowed guests to drill down into a political map to produce their own “what-if” election outcome scenarios. We provided the integration of a live video feed – from the floor feed, broadcast feeds, and our Xbox LIVE Election 2012 hub.

During the DNC, the joint Microsoft/Interknowlogy team ran the online voting for the Presidential nomination. This involved positioning 56 laptops around the convention floor where each delegation chair could register their votes. From ensuring that the system reflected the official delegate counts from the DNC Secretary’s office (which were not final until minutes prior to the voting) to coordinating with delegation chairs on getting their votes registered to watching the map on the admin console go to 100% complete as the final state, New York, cast their votes (see image below), the team had a fascinating, behind the scenes role enabling the DNC with great Microsoft technology.

A delegate using the Interknowlogy voting app on the convention floor.

Final results of the Democratic Convention domination process on the Interknowlogy app.

The joint Microsoft-Interknowlogy team that worked the voting app part of the DNC.

Warren Ashton is the senior marketing manager for government at Microsoft, based in Bellevue, WA.

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