The Austin Chronicle ran this lovely story on ThinkVoting and The Voting App this week. There were two other smaller ThinkVoting mentions in the same issue of the Chronicle.
Austin’s ThinkVoting has an app for that
By Greg Harman, 12:01PM, Thu. Oct. 23
Thanks in part to aggressive voter registration efforts this year, a record number of Texans – 14,025,441 – are registered to vote in the current gubernatorial election, according to the Texas Secretary of State‘s office. And the view from day three of early voting suggests it will indeed be a big turnout. For a nonpresidential election. In Texas.
Texas is, after all, one of the most pathetically apathetic states in the union when it comes to voting.
Roughly half of all registered voters turned out in the 2012 presidential elections. That number takes a dive during statewide elections. Of 19 million adults in Texas this year, only 13.6 were registered to vote at the time of the March primary. Fewer than 2 million did so.
A new smartphone app hopes to change that.
“I had this grandiose plan for a tool by the people for the people,” said local musician and gaming designer Joseph Santori, founder of the voter-empowerment effort at ThinkVoting.
By his own account, Santori hasn’t exactly been a portrait of civic duties fulfilled. Rather, he considers his former self “an average citizen.” He doesn’t mean that in a nice way either.
“My voting record was relatively spotty. I’m not a politico. I voted when the news made me feel like I wanted to vote or was guilted into it,” he said.
His conversion began after being hired in 2012 by the Texas Secretary of State’s office to develop a statewide voting app that became VoteTexas. Little he wanted to include found its way into the final product due to tangled debates over potential bias. Linking to candidate websites was resisted by state employees because, he said, it was feared it would seem the SOS was favoring candidates with websites. “There were disputes over where to put a comma in some of the copy that went in. It was like working with both hands tied behind my back and my tongue tied,” he said.
With the launch of the Voting App (an iPhone version went up Tuesday; the Google store version is pending), Santori’s broader vision is finding expression.
By typing in their location, users can easily view their ballots, examine candidate positions and ballot initiatives, and locate their polling location. This week’s launch covers the range of races affecting the Austin area but won’t spread to other metros until next year. Plans are to go national in time for the presidential elections in 2016.
Currently, the Voting App draws much of its information from League of Women Voters research, but the team expects to aggregate from as many sources as possible as they ramp up to a nationwide presence.
After beginning that SOS gig, Santori started paying a lot more attention to politics. All that he learned about low voter turnout colored his take on the sea of commenters on those Yahoo News stories he was reading.
“Anything that I saw that had to do with politics had this rampant trolling,” he said. “At the same time I knew what the voting turnout rate was. I’m pretty sure a large majority of them didn’t participate in the election process at all. I mean, we have an average of 10 percent for our municipal elections. … People have died for this.”
While it doesn’t begin to address their historic debt, perhaps, Travis County is seeing a rise in voter participation along with other major state metros. In the first three days of early voting, counting in-person and mail-in votes, 37,007 county voters have turned out already. That’s a slight climb over 2010.
“People are consuming [a lot of] information now, they want it on demand, and they want the me-now right-now so they can make a decision five minutes before they walk into the polls,” Santori said. “I want to be able to give as much of that as I possibly can to ensure they really don’t have any blockages to getting to the polling places anymore.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
The Voting App – Austin Edition is now available:
ThinkVoting is excited to announce the official launch of “The Voting App – Austin Edition” for iPhone, with the Android version soon to follow. This first version of The Voting App will exclusively serve the Austin area during the upcoming election. With the historic nature of Austin’s upcoming election (78 candidates running just for City Council and Mayor) and the likelihood that many voters will be voting for their own City Council member for the first time, there is a desperate need for The Voting App.
About The Voting App:
The Voting App harnesses the power of mobile to make participating in the electoral process easier than ever before. It consolidates the critical information needed to evaluate the Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why for any federal, state or local election in which you are eligible to vote. It allows voters to compare candidates on a number of different criteria, evaluate pros and cons of proposed legislation and ballot items, and will even guide them to nearest poll location.
ThinkVoting is a civic-minded software development company with a new vision for 21st Century Democracy. “We aren’t politicos. We are technologists that recognize the potential for technology to play a greater role in our civic process. We want to make it easier for average people to get involved and informed.” – Founders of ThinkVoting
ThinkVoting has been built from the ground up here in Austin, and believe this upcoming election offers the potential to showcase the power of mobile technologies in the future of our democracy. They are non-partisan, and are forging partnerships across the political spectrum to create tools for citizens everywhere.
Partnership w/ League of Women Voter’s:
ThinkVoting worked closely with The League of Women Voters Austin Area to develop The Voting App, and have officially partnered with them to deliver their Voter’s Guide information through the app. ThinkVoting’s founders and the LWVAA believe that mobile technology is the key to bringing more and better informed voters to the polls (see press release from LWVAA here).
For more information about ThinkVoting and The Voting App, please visit thinkvoting.com, or email the founders at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an interview. The iPhone version of The Voting App is available in the iTunes App Store at http://bit.ly/tvaios. The Android version will be available in the Google Play Store on Friday, October 25.
ThinkVoting needs folks at the Copper Tank in downtown Austin, TX on Wednesday at 2:00 to vote for our project in the Austin Plus Social Good Social Innovators Fast Pitch competition. We are one of five finalists competing with the audience choosing the winner. Mark Strama is MCing and the event kicks off Austin Start Up Week. Register here.
ThinkVoting is a social entrepreneurship that is focused on building the most powerful tools for participating in the political process of all time. They have recently been selected as one of five finalist in the Austin Plus Social Good Social Innovators Fast Pitch Competition.
“We are proud and excited to be amongst such amazing ideas in the A+SG competition. This is a huge learning experience for us as entrepreneurs with a social mission and we hope this event is well attended.”
Founder & Chief Innovator at ThinkVoting
ThinkVoting is an innovative startup that has been built from the ground up here in Austin. This upcoming election offers the opportunity to really showcase the power of mobile technologies in the new age of democracy. Their first tool is simply called “The Voting App”, and it will be available on all Android and iOS enabled devices in early October, just in time for the upcoming election. It features the League of Women Voters of Austin’s Voters Guide providing detailed information about candidates and proposed legislation, and it reminds voters on election days while navigating them to the polls.
Austin+Social Good is the Austin chapter of the national initiative founded by Mashable. The Social Good Summit unites a dynamic group of community and global leaders to discuss a big topic — the power of innovative thinking and technology to solve our world’s greatest challenges.
The Social Innovator’s Fast Pitch is scheduled to be at The Copper Tank on San Jacinto from 2pm – 6pm at on October 8th. The contestants are judged by the audience and the winner receives crowdfunded money to advance their project and an opportunity to pitch during SXSW. More information on this event can be found at http://austinplussocialgood.org/events/atxsocialgood/