Person

Tiana Epps-Johnson

Organization:

Center for Tech and Civic Life

Tiana Epps-Johnson is the founder and executive director of Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), an electoral advocacy organization which received $250 million from Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan in 2020. [1]

Epps-Johnson was one of eight high-level staff members who led a walkout at the New Organizing Institute (NOI), a Democratic campaign training organization, in 2015. Soon after, Epps-Johnson turned her focus to CTCL, a group she founded in 2012 fellow NOI employees Whitney May and Donny Bridges, and NOI joined RePower, a left-wing activist training organization. [2]

Epps-Johnson was also part of the inaugural class of fellows at former President Barack Obama’s Obama Foundation.

Education

Tiana Epps-Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Stanford University. She then earned a master’s degree in politics and communications from the London School of Economics. [3]

Epps-Johnson wrote her dissertation on the portrayal of African Americans in advertisements concerning California’s Proposition 8, a referendum to ban state recognition of same-sex marriages. She argued that advertisements tended to portray African Americans as homophobic and that race was not a meaningful factor in predicting voting trends on marriage issues, despite 70% of California African Americans had voted in favor of Proposition 8. [4]

Career

In 2006, while studying at Stanford University, Tiana Epps-Johnson interned at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on the organization’s voting rights project. [5]

In 2008, after graduating from Stanford and before starting at the London School of Economics, Tiana Epps-Johnson worked for the University of California, San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control and Research. [6]

In 2010, Epps-Johnson began working for the New Organizing Institute, a now-defunct left-progressive group which trained digital organizers and campaigners for the Democratic Party and left-of-center political causes. Epps-Johnson started as a deputy data manager of the organization’s Voting Information Project. She was then promoted to manage the project and eventually became NOI’s election administration director. [7]

In February 2015, eight senior staff members, including Epps-Johnson, quit NOI at once. In the immediate aftermath, numerous low-level staff members also either immediately resigned or were laid off. The walk-out was promoted by ongoing complaints against executive director Ethan Roeder, a former top-level campaign manager for President Obama whose alleged mismanagement of New Organizing Institute had brought the organization close to bankruptcy. The leaders of the revolt delivered an ultimatum to board chair Judith Freeman demanding that the board fire Roeder, a request which the board refused. [8] Eight months later, the remnants of NOI were absorbed into RePower, a radical left-wing political training group. [9]

Shortly after she left NOI, Epps-Johnson focused her attention on the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a group she had founded in 2012 with her NOI co-workers Whitney May and Donny Bridges. Epps-Johnson took on the role of executive director and is also a board member at CTCL. [10] CTCL is a left-leaning election advocacy group. It is best known for receiving a $250 million donation from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, in the months leading up to the 2020 election. CTCL then distributed the funds to local election jurisdictions to ensure the security and safety of voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. [11]

In 2015, while running CTCL, Epps-Johnson became a technology and democracy fellow at the Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. In 2018, Epps-Johnson was named one of the inaugural Obama Fellows at the Obama Foundation, through which she received funding for her work with CTCL[12]

In November 2018, Epps-Johnson gave a TED Talk on updating American voting systems. As of June 2021, the online video of the talk has over 1.5 million views. [13]

Epps-Johnson currently sits on the boards of City Bureau, a Chicago-based community organizing group, and the Center for Civic Design, a left-of-center election watchdog group. [14]

Pleasant Prairie Election Complaint

In 2020, Jay Stone, a resident of Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin who is registered as an Independent, filed a complaint against the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The complaint claimed that funds were being disproportionately sent to election officials in Democratic-leaning districts. Stone later amended the complaint to include grants given by the CTCL, which heavily targeted major cities that voted in favor of Democratic candidates. Stone noted that CTCL is an officially non-partisan group, but he identified Tiana Epps-Johnson and other executives as having ties to the Democratic Party, including her fellowship with the Obama Foundation and former employment at the New Organizing Institute. [15]

Stone’s complaint listed that Epps-Johnson “is an out-and-out Democrat” who “would be entitled to her opinions if she had not tried to influence the election.” Stone claimed that Epps-Johnson, through CTCL grants given to majority Democratic jurisdictions, was “influencing the election in arguably the three most crucial battleground states, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.” [16]

References

  1. Allen, Mike. “Scoop: Zuckerberg, Chan invest $300 million in election infrastructure.” Axios. September 1, 2020. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.axios.com/mark-zuckerberg-priscilla-chan-election-security-a4950a93-2efd-42a6-9d7a-5fcc763f9214.html. ^
  2. “New Organizing Institute.” Influence Watch. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/new-organizing-institute/. ^
  3. “Tiana Epps-Johnson.” LinkedIn. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/tianaej/. ^
  4. Epps-Johnson, Tiana. “Fleeting Racialization?: Media Representation of African Americans During the California Proposition 8 Campaign.” London School of Economics. 2011. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.lse.ac.uk/media-and-communications/assets/documents/research/msc-dissertations/2010/Johnson-1.pdf. ^
  5. “Tiana Epps-Johnson.” LinkedIn. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/tianaej/. ^
  6. “Tiana Epps-Johnson.” LinkedIn. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/tianaej/. ^
  7. “Tiana Epps-Johnson.” LinkedIn. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/tianaej/. ^
  8. McMorris-Santoro, Evan. “Liberal Organizing Group Implodes in One Tumultuous Afternoon.” BuzzFeed News. February 10, 2015. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/evanmcsan/new-organizing-institute-implodes. ^
  9. “New Organizing Institute.” Influence Watch. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/new-organizing-institute/. ^
  10. “Tiana Epps-Johnson.” LinkedIn. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/tianaej/. ^
  11. Allen, Mike. “Scoop: Zuckerberg, Chan invest $300 million in election infrastructure.” Axios. September 1, 2020. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.axios.com/mark-zuckerberg-priscilla-chan-election-security-a4950a93-2efd-42a6-9d7a-5fcc763f9214.html. ^
  12. “Tiana Epps-Johnson.” LinkedIn. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/tianaej/. ^
  13. “What’s needed to bring the US voting system into the 21st century.” TED. November 2018. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.ted.com/talks/tiana_epps_johnson_what_s_needed_to_bring_the_us_voting_system_into_the_21st_century#t-307254. ^
  14. “Tiana Epps-Johnson.” LinkedIn. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/in/tianaej/. ^
  15. Truttschel, Dan. “Pleasant Prairie resident files election complaint.” Kenosha News. September 10, 2020. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.kenoshanews.com/news/local/pleasant-prairie-resident-files-election-complaint/article_011039c1-c40f-5065-bbfd-9d3301b03c6b.html. ^
  16. Truttschel, Dan. “Pleasant Prairie resident files election complaint.” Kenosha News. September 10, 2020. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.kenoshanews.com/news/local/pleasant-prairie-resident-files-election-complaint/article_011039c1-c40f-5065-bbfd-9d3301b03c6b.html. ^
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