I 💙 Spreadsheets, Election Night Precinct Data Edition

I am finally, after sixteen years of post-college experience as a “software engineer” learning to understand and love spreadsheets. So much so that I’ll inefficiently figure out how to do something in a spreadsheet to answer a question as opposed to just writing a script or dropping the data into a proper structured data store with a more programmer focused query language. But spreadsheet formulas, etc. are programming! I am fairly certain that some business spreadsheets I’ve seen are self-aware and planning to throttle us all. Anyway, I can do this. I am a professional.

Tonight I dumped the August 1st primary election night precinct level results CSV file into a Google Spreadsheet and decided to do some programming. You can find the original csv on the elections website – look on the “Download results” tab to see what’s available. The specific file I played with is this one. Note that all the screenshots on this post are using the election night results only. The final precinct results won’t be available until August 16th, sob, though at that point I can just replace one tab in my spreadsheet and voilà! It will all update.

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Complain where it counts!

Some weeks ago a building project was brought to the attention of a neighborhood social media group. The main concern of the original poster was that the project (with ~90 residential units) would not have enough parking (only three). Some of us disagreed as the building was going to be very close to light rail and bus stops for multiple buses. There were dozens of folks commenting on various aspects of the project, in opposition and support, but the parking issue was the main concern. The thread seems to have been contentious – after a while I ignored all the new comment notifications and now I can’t find it. It must have been deleted.

The original post included a link to make a comment on the project. So I did. I wrote in support of the project having almost no parking because I believe it lowers overall rental costs. I got an email today with a summary of all activities on this project so far, including a recent review meeting which summarized public commit received since the last solicitation.

This is all the comment they received since last November and before a meeting at the end of July:

No public comment was offered at the meeting. Two emails were sent in prior to the meeting. One requested additional off-street parking with the project, the other felt that not providing off-street parking was appropriate to help lower the costs of residential units.
All public comments submitted in writing for this project can be viewed using the following link and entering the project number: http://web6.seattle.gov/dpd/edms/

The moral of my post here is not to shame my neighbors for not submitting comments. Or not shame them very much: complaining communally is a time honored bonding exercise we all engage in. But if you do really care, submit your comments! You might be only one of two.

Voter guide: I hate the mayoral primary edition!

The last few years I’ve been writing somewhat snarky but serious “how should you vote” blog posts. Why stop now, even if I hate the mayor’s race? Also I spend about a third of my free time doing politics or thinking about it these days (why that is will wait for another post) so clearly I should offend people! So here, really late, a breezy guide to your primary ballot, if you live in Seattle, in the district I live in! If you haven’t voted yet, GET YOUR BALLOT IN. Off year primaries have abysmal turnout. You have till August 1st to mail or find a dropbox. But don’t wait till August 1st. Go get yours right now and get ready to fill in those bubbles. I’m waiting. Do you want me to side-eye you?! Get your ballot in and forestall my wrath.

Full disclosure: I’m currently a member of my legislative district Democratic party executive board but this of course this post does not represent anyone but me. Also I dropped my ballot off last Saturday, so there’s no point in trying to argue me to take a different position.

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Yes, in my backyard!

This morning I was out knocking on my neighbors doors (fulfilling my duties as a Democratic party PCO). The second door I went to was having a “party” to build a structure in the back yard. I went to the back to find the resident to give her the 37th LD flyer and encourage her to vote. I found out they weren’t just building any kind of building in their backyard, they were building a house for someone who doesn’t have a home as part of The Block Project. Theirs is the first to be built as part of this project and Robert will be moving in August 1st.

I’d heard about the project a while back. I don’t think we could literally have one in our backyard (since we already have a bit larger and more conventional small house in it) but I’m glad to see the project going forward and people in our neighborhood hosting. Thank you to anyone who is volunteering or donating to this project.



Stop voting for white men, part 2

To followup to my previous post, yes, I meant it. I meant to use an inflammatory headline, even if the short-short version is pretty simple:

Given a choice between two candidates who are close (enough) in policy and similar (if not identical) in experience and competence, bias yourself to vote for the one that decreases future homogeneity because your assessments of candidates are probably biased.

That’s all.

Now some folks don’t think representation matters. I was not talking to them. I was talking to people who agree that diversity matters but have not really thought about the consequences of that. What does it mean for you, individually, to support that idea?

When I thought about what it meant to me, I thought about a famous “simulation” paper. In this paper, they simulated a corporate hierarchy where workers are promoted up the pyramid with fewer workers at the top, that is, the management, using randomly generated performance evaluation. Even if you start the simulation entirely gender-balanced, after 20 “review cycles”, a 1% variance in performance evaluation causes a strong shift towards men dominating upper management. Do you really think workplace performance and promotion has less than 1% bias against women (or in favor of men or white people)? I don’t. People, collectively, are biased. We promote mediocre men because we just expect them to do better. We hold women to double standards about likability while penalizing them for not being as “assertive” as men. Our stereotypes about non-white people are far more horrifying with more horrifying consequences (how do you think stereotypes about black people play out in a white-dominated workplace?) We’re just plain biased. (You can learn more about bias in the workplace using Facebook’s glossy training materials much of which is applicable to non-work environments).

Of course our workplaces do not, at all levels, remotely reflect existing demographics. So we’re “swimming upstream” trying to correct this bias, while still promoting people in biased ways. Is it any wonder few companies that announce a big push to improve “diversity” make very little progress? They start in a place of bias, and to make significant progress they have to consciously over-index on people from the groups they are trying to increase representation from. Few companies are willing to do that work consistently over a long time.

So what does this have to do with elected office? Elected offices are, some exceptions aside, usually held by people who previously got elected to a “lower” office or who worked in non-profits or government and run for a relatively low office, but have significant experience. Most folks who end up Congress start at a minor local office, run for state legislature, often spending a term both in a lower and upper body, then run for Congress. If we treat it like that employment promotion pyramid, it’s obvious that the only way you get more not-white-dudes at the more impactful positions is to vote them in disproportionately at lower levels. Otherwise we’re swimming upstream against existing bias and our current biases.

“So why didn’t you just write that?!”

Because I wanted a reader to feel uncomfortable. I wanted you to get your back up. I wanted to make you feel a bit how I feel every day listening to the news. Of course it’s not at all equivalent. I’m a relatively powerless writer on a blog who you chose to read and it made you a little mad. The powers that maintain biased representation in public office are diverse (ha!), often unconscious and systematic. They show up every day in ways we often don’t even notice. They are curled up in our minds.

So I am saying we all need to vote for fewer white men. No, of course, don’t vote for someone who you disagree with a lot or who you think has no chance of winning or who you think couldn’t competently hold the office. Yes, fine, if a good friend really wants you to vote for their long time friend whose policies and personality are exactly what you want but they happen to be a white guy, joke about your token white guy vote (I do). But really think about it. Is this vote now to the white guy who you 100% love on policy worth it if it means a highly competent non-white woman who you 90% agree with doesn’t get to start up that ladder of elected offices? Only you can decide that, for you, which matters more. But let’s not pretend we only vote based on policy or competence or that we’re only voting for the candidate today. You’re voting for future incumbents and future candidates for higher office. And you’re voting with bias.

Note: I of course through out this piece and the previous stopped at “white men” because it’s simple and short and has more punch then “cis straight white men who aren’t poor, disabled, etc.” I hope the rest of the piece made it clear I was talking about decreasing homogeneity in those who hold elected office.