Common Responses from the Democracy Newsletter
Welcome to the Newsletter FAQ. Thank you for taking the time to respond to our most recent newsletter in defense of democracy. Any time we send a newsletter to millions of people, we expect to get a large reaction, and this time was no different.
Of the millions of users who received the newsletter, 0.5% have responded. That's 2x our normal response rate. Our replies usually consist of questions or comments about expense reporting and accounting -- or are just general words of appreciation. But this time they covered everything from enthusiastic support, to genuine debate, extreme anger, and everything in between. What we found was that most replies were limited to a number of recurring topics, and as such, it felt important to share and address the common themes that have been popping up.
At the end of the day, our newsletter is not trying to take a stance on "left" or "right", "Democrat" or "Republican." Our goal is to defend the right to vote more than anything else, and Vice President Joe Biden is taking steps to increase access to voting, while President Donald Trump is taking steps to limit access to voting. We’ve considered and internalized a lot of new perspectives so we wanted to take the time to address some of the most common points:
- Trump is not a threat to democracy
- The US is a constitutional republic, not a democracy
- A vote for Biden is a vote for Socialism (or Communism)
- Politics and business should not mix
- You violated my company’s and/or my employees’ trust
- Cancel my account
Statement: Trump is not a threat to democracy
The most constructive discussions, both before and after sending the newsletter, were around debating the truth or fiction of a single bold claim: Trump is a threat to democracy. It’s a simple statement to make, and nearly everyone agrees it has an obvious answer. Unfortunately, there’s no universal agreement on what that obvious answer is.
Before getting into that, let’s first define what “threat to democracy” means. We view democracy as the general system of “one person, one vote” -- where everyone has free and equal access to vote their conscience, and those votes are tallied up in a proportional way to ensure everyone is equally represented in every level of government.
Now, we would all agree that no democracy is perfect: there are countless distortions introduced at every level -- most notably the electoral college. But also smaller, more subtle distortions, like unequal distances to drive to a polling station, unequal wait times at the DMV to get a valid ID to pass voter ID laws, or legitimate voters being accidentally (?) purged. Our democracy had no shortage of problems before Trump came onto the scene.
So we define “threat to democracy” as “expanding existing distortions (or adding new kinds) to reduce equal access to the vote”, versus “blocking new distortions while unwinding the old, in order to increase equal access to the vote”.
And by that definition, it’s very easy to say the Trump administration is a threat to democracy, given their unapologetic strengthening of voter ID laws, restriction of mail-in ballots, complication of the return of those ballots (such as using drop boxes), and so on. And it was from this perspective that we collectively agreed Trump is an “obvious” threat to democracy.
However, countless conversations on this topic later, it’s become clear that the question of whether Trump is a threat to democracy, is really a proxy for a different question: Do you believe our elections are fair and accurate? If you agree with virtually every expert that fraud is rare, small, and has no effect on the outcome of the election, then Trump’s widespread efforts to “fight fraud” are in fact thinly-veiled attempts to suppress legitimate voters.
Something as simple as “why not just require an ID to vote?” sounds like a fair idea, until you dig into the fact that there is no legal requirement to have an ID, and in practice the populations who are the least likely to have IDs (for a variety of reasons) are less likely to vote for him.
Similarly, the occasional example of “see that article about a dozen ballots being lost? this is why we can’t trust vote by mail” can sound convincing, until you dig into the sheer irrelevance of a couple dozen, hundred, or even thousand votes toward an election that is projected to have over 150 *million* votes counted.
Or even “what is wrong with removing deceased or moved people from voting records; that can only be used for fraud!” -- it seems reasonable on its face. But that ignores that any “voter roll purge” is itself very inaccurate, and in the process of removing illegitimate voters, tends to remove far, far more legitimate voters, who don’t know they can’t vote until they show up to do it (or, quietly have their ballot discarded and never even know). And the people most likely to be “accidentally” removed are those who are younger, more mobile, and less likely to vote for Trump.
None of these are new questions; these are just the same range of issues that caused the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prevent states who had a history of doing this, from doing it. Unfortunately, the act was repealed in recent years, causing all those same tactics to raise their ugly heads once again, in all the states that were doing it before -- and with them, all the same concerns that we are raising now. In a way, this is just a repeat of the conversation the nation had 55 years ago.
So for these and other reasons, many people feel it’s incredibly obvious that Trump is abusing his power to surgically disenfranchise voters in areas that are the least likely to vote for him.
On the other hand, if you believe that our elections are rife with fraud, then his widespread efforts to lock down the vote seem like he’s protecting democracy, not eroding it. Indeed, every argument above falls apart if you truly believe that our elections aren’t fair, or aren’t safe.
This is why Trump says that election fraud is real at nearly every chance he can: because the more people believe that, the more people will believe his obvious (to most) voter suppression efforts are in fact defending the safety and security of the vote.
Sadly, Trump is simply wrong, and is directly lying to his followers. The data and consensus of experts are both overwhelmingly clear that our elections are very safe, and very accurate. There is no credible way for a nationwide presidential election to be meaningfully influenced by fraud. This is backed up by truly countless numbers of experts and studies, but if you are going to read just one, we recommend the Brennan Center for Justice, which states:
“Politicians at all levels of government have repeatedly, and falsely, claimed the 2016 and 2018 elections were marred by millions of people voting illegally. However, extensive research reveals that fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and many instances of alleged fraud are, in fact, mistakes by voters or administrators. The same is true for mail ballots, which are secure and essential to holding a safe election amid the coronavirus pandemic.”
So the chain of reasoning is straightforward: every expert agrees that our presidential elections are fair and accurate, so any claim to the contrary is an active lie -- and the primary reason to lie is to pass off explicit voter suppression as a false claim of protecting the vote.
For this reason, we concluded overwhelmingly that Trump is in fact a threat to democracy, and the only way to get him out of office is to vote for Biden. Nothing less than that helps.
Statement: The US is a constitutional republic, not a democracy.
This was often the first thing people pointed to. In hindsight, it would’ve been helpful to mention that yes, we understand the US is a Constitutional Republic. However, the US can be both a republic and a democracy as they’re not mutually exclusive. Specifically:
- The US is a representative democracy because citizens elect representatives who create policy on our behalf. While not a direct democracy, representative democracy is a form of democracy nonetheless.
- The US is also a republic because our elected representatives are given political power once they’re elected.
- Additionally, the US is bound to a constitution, making the country a constitutional government as well. This means our people and representatives can exercise and are bound to the rights described in our constitution.
If you would like to learn more about democracies and constitutional republics and how they relate to one another, we recommend checking out https://act.represent.us/sign/democracy-republic/.
All that said, let’s get down to the root of our concern: our constitution enshrines the right of every citizen to vote. We feel that President Trump is actively trying to suppress this right. Due to the unprecedented levels of voter suppression being attempted by the Trump administration, we feel it is our responsibility to support the candidate who is not actively working towards denying citizens their constitutional right to vote. We understand you may not agree, and we support your right to believe that and voice your opinion, but this is how we feel.
Statement: A vote for Biden is a vote for Socialism (or Communism).
A common topic people wanted to discuss rather than addressing voter suppression was linking Joe Biden to socialism. The information we have reviewed (using reliable sources link, link) does not offer the same conclusion and rather point to Joe Biden being a moderate democrat and far from a socialist.
After talking with many, many users and many conversations it seems that *most* people don’t actually think Joe Biden is an actual socialist. Rather, socialism is the easiest word to convey that they don’t agree with some of his policies, such as increased minimum wage and affordable healthcare.
Fundamentally, it seems that these policies were more important to some people than even discussing widespread tactics of voter suppression.
At that, it seems like the issues we chose to prioritize and guide our vote were different than those who were writing in. For us, fair and easily accessible voting is the most important thing to protect, because this ensures that democracy prevails.
Statement: Politics and business should not mix.
That is a fine approach, just not one we believe in. We acknowledge that we don’t exist in a vacuum, and if the situation calls for it, we are willing to have hard conversations. Users and customers will always have the choice to choose who and what they want to support. More often than not, our newsletters will be about time saving tools. But every so often we’ll let you know how we’re trying to make the world a better place through Expensify.org or about an issue that matters to us.
In fact, Expensify was started as a credit card to feed the homeless, so while our activism might be new to you, it is in our DNA. We know that it is not for everyone, but for those who want to come along for the ride, welcome to the team. And for those who don’t want the two to mix, you are always welcome to use our products and unsubscribe from our newsletter.
Rest assured, no matter what you believe politically, we’ll still be here working to bring you incredible products that change the way you do business.
Statement: You violated my company’s and/or my employees’ trust.
Of the common responses, we saw this one the least but it hit us the hardest. It was not our intention to violate anyone’s trust. We have the highest security practices in the industry, and we do not share personal data. However, some newsletter subscribers did not agree with the content, and felt it was a violation of trust to state an opinion they didn’t agree with. This is a tough one because the world is only changed constructively by engaging those who don’t agree, and we feel that respectful engagement is the fundamental basis of a democratic society. We think trust is earned by reliably acting upon good intentions in line with clear values, so it’s hard feedback to hear that doing exactly this in fact diminishes trust in some peoples’ eyes.
On the other hand, some admins mentioned that they agreed with the message (or at least, agreed to disagree) but suggested that we should not contact their employees with anything other than strictly product messages. We understand that perspective, but Expensify is designed such that every user controls their own account. We are designed this way given that most of the data in a user's account is actually personal and not owned by the company. For example, when you import your personal credit card into an account, we protect the privacy of that user's information by ensuring that everyone is the legal owner of the information in their account, and the settings of their account. One of those many settings is the decision of whether to receive our newsletter, which everyone is free to make as an individual.
The Expensify newsletter has always been an opportunity for the company to share more intimate information than strictly product updates. Past newsletters have included industry trends as well as our CEO’s reason for starting Expensify: to offer the homeless access to a credit card to buy food. We have covered it all. And our users have always been able to opt out.
This is the first time we felt that an election could affect our business, and our hope is that it's the last time. Our standard terms include sending these newsletters. To opt out of receiving the newsletter, simply use the unsubscribe link at the bottom of any newsletter.
If you would like your employees to do so, you are welcome to ask them to unsubscribe from the newsletter, but that's a decision that can only be made by them.
Request: Cancel my account.
There were a small number of users who were so upset by the newsletter that they no longer wanted to use Expensify. We’re sorry to see you go but respect your decision to do so. Free users (from whom we heard most often) can close their accounts in the web app by going to Settings > Account > Account Details > Close Account.
If you’re using Expensify with an Annual Subscription, disable Auto Renew through Settings > Policies > Group > Subscriptions. At the end of your subscription period (which you’ll see on that page) you’ll be able to delete your Group policies and close your account. Reach out to Concierge if you need more specific steps for that once your subscription term has ended!
If you’re using Expensify with an Individual subscription, you can cancel that in the web app by going to Settings > Policies> Individual > Subscriptions. Then, you can close your account by going to Settings > Account > Account Details > Close Account.
If you’re using Expensify with an iTunes subscription, you’ll need to cancel that subscription through iTunes using your iOS device (iPhone or iPad). Then, close your account in the Expensify web app by going to Settings > Account > Account Details > Close Account.
To the thousands of people who engaged in constructive conversation, we thank you. It’s a tremendous honor to come to work and serve people from all different viewpoints. It is not always an easy conversation, but we always appreciate and respect your opinion and hope you respect ours as well.
We hope this has helped answer some of the questions you might have reached out for or just have in general. We remain committed as ever to building great products and will remain just as committed to making the world a better place. To us this means sometimes having the hard conversations, respectfully and honestly. We plan to continue to update our users on any other learnings we might have and continue to engage on any topics not addressed in this FAQ.
The Expensify Team