When U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in January that phone calls from constituents were a major reason why she voted against President Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, two Juneau-Douglas High School graduates were listening.
Sam Kurland and Stephen Mell, recent graduates currently in college, had already been discussing ways to make a difference politically and had brought up the idea of getting more people to call their legislators.
Within 48 hours after Murkowski’s comments, Kurland and Mell had a website — CallToWin.org — up and running. The site lists contact information for every U.S. Senator and Representative, both in Washington, D.C., offices and in their respective home states. The site also allows users to track how many calls they’ve made and which issues they’ve been calling about.
“We can help users track that, sort of their cumulative impact over time,” Kurland said. “It might feel like one call is not particularly consequential, but a long-term body of calls is definitely impactful and I think we do really want to help people see everything they’ve done.”
Both Kurland and Mell have experience in this realm. Kurland interned for former U.S. Senator Mark Begich, answering phone calls and passing the messages up the food chain. Mell developed an online tool for voter registration in 2014.
The site has grown quickly since that initial release, as more than 200 people have registered with the site to begin placing calls. Users can connect their Facebook accounts to the site as well, and can share their action with friends. Friends who are also members of the site can “cheer” a friend’s action (the equivalent of a “like” on Facebook) to support and encourage the calls.
There are more than 40 scripts available for people to read from as they place calls, making it as easy as possible to speak about an issue over the phone. So far, the most popular issue on the site has been the American Health Care Act proposed by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Kurland said dozens of people used CallToWin to ask elected officials to vote against the act.
Kurland is a senior at Stanford University, studying economics. Mell is a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, studying mathematics. Neither of them are technological experts, but they have hopes of developing a mobile app for both iPhone/iOS and Android. They might end up having some help, Kurland said.
“We’re actually talking with some other folks right now who have a background in iOS development,” Kurland said, “here at Stanford and a couple people from D.C. who reached out and who are interested in the tool and the project in general. We’re excited to have them on board.”
Kurland and Mell hope the site keeps growing, but aren’t interested in personal gain.
“We’re not counting on this as a steady stream of income,” Kurland said. “We really just saw this as a tool that ought to exist and could help folks who are interested in engaging on these issues and being more impactful.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2271.