There are 519,682 elected officials across the US on the local, state, and federal levels, which should, in theory, give citizens a feeling of ownership over their democracy.
In practice, however, nearly half of the population doesn’t vote and the overwhelming sense among citizens is that politics is rigged. In the 2012 presidential election, 54.9 percent of the voting public filled out a ballot. In the 2014 midterm elections, around 30 percent of eligible voters came out.
This disengagement is worst among young people aged 18-29, and could stem from not knowing how the traditional political machine works; not knowing how to effectively engage with politics or who to call to make concerns known; not knowing what the issues being voted on are, especially in local elections; not knowing who’s running for office or what a candidate’s political leanings are; and so on.
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These are daunting barriers, but an app called Voter is trying to help newcomers get on board with politics in a fun, engaging way.
Voter was started by Hunter Scarborough, a 26-year old web developer who wanted a better way to connect with the political system. He wasn’t an expert on politics, but he wanted to be more informed when he cast his vote and to have more of a say in the direction of his country.
But when he looked around, there seemed to be no way to quickly and easily learn about politics. So he started working on Voter.
The app is pitched as the “Tinder of Voting,” and, like the dating app, it’s simple and efficient, involving easy left and right swipes culminating in political matches with candidates who share a voter’s values.
“We built it to solve our own problem [as millennials],” Hunter Scarborough, the founder of Voter, told Global Citizen. “We wanted something that was fast, effective on the surface, but under the hood had a lot of integrity in what it was delivering.”
Thanks to the hard work of nonprofits and independent researchers, a lot of information exists on where candidates stand on issues. But unless you’re a political operative or news junkie, you might not have the stamina or skill to delve into and make sense of the information.
“The puzzle pieces were out there but no one had put them together and made them digestible for the average consumer,” Scarborough said.
Voter pulls this off with a friendly, appealing interface that could help make people far more engaged in the political process. Currently, more than 175,000 people have downloaded the app.
Voter works by asking users to answer a series of simple questions such as, “Legalize Marijuana?,” “Keep Same-Sex Marriage Legal?,” and “Abolish The Death Penalty?”
All questions are based on the most prominent political issues of today, but are distilled to their democratic essence: Yes or no.
You swipe right if you agree, or swipe left if you disagree. If you’re unclear on where you stand, you can tap for more information and read succinct arguments for and against the issue.
“It’s very issue focused,” Scarborough said. “The main goal is to get them thinking about their own individual opinions on the issues, and how they want to vote on them regardless of how the political machine tells them how to vote.”
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Questions are currently divided between four levels, with successive levels delving into wonkier issues that are still, nonetheless, delivered comprehensibly.
For example, level four questions include, “Keep Cuba Open?,” “Switch to a Single-Payer Healthcare?,” and “Guarantee Paid Family Leave?”
After each round, your answers are scored against the database of information and you’re matched with the candidates and influencers who best align with your voting preferences.
Matches are described through percentages and you can see how you closely you align with all candidates in relevant elections.
If you want to see how and why you match up with candidates, you can explore a candidate’s voting history, platform, funding base, and more.
Voter only covers state and national elections at the moment, so users are matched with Senate, House, gubernatorial, and presidential candidates.
The team behind the app hopes to introduce local elections, which would really be a game-changer in terms of keeping voters informed. But, “it’s a big undertaking.... that type of information is so fluid and constantly changing,” according to Scarborough.
For the time being, Voter hopes to keep people engaged beyond the horse race that news outlets focus on by letting people know the status and outcome of policy votes they would be interested in and providing regular, relevant updates on behind-the-scenes governing.
“One of things I highlight is that I am very much your average millennial voter,” he said. “I wanted something that was quick and easy...we’re trying to meet people on their own terms, we’re not expecting people to take a crazy dive into politics.”
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