OpenBag: Seth Flaxman’s turbocharged voting vehicle – TurboVote

Seth Flaxman stopped by to talk about TurboVote, the organization that is encouraging people to get out and vote byusing web-based communication and mapping technology.   TurboVote has devised a way to engage the individual who may not have the time or the wherewithal to follow through and vote, by making it much more enjoyable and understandable experience.  TurboVote’s aim is to bring voting into the 21sr century and make it truly convenient and easy, and being responsive to the end user.  

This radical idea – convince – can be traced back to the early days of the republic and is actually a return to convenience. Here’s a great question- why do we vote on Tuesday?  In the 1840’s Congress determined that Tuesday was the best day:

In 1845, before Florida, California, and Texas were states or slavery had been abolished, Congress needed to pick a time for Americans to vote. We were an agrarian society. We traveled by horse and buggy. Farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship. So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day. So, Tuesday it was. In 1875 Congress extended the Tuesday date for national House elections and in 1914 for federal Senate elections.  (via WhyTuesday.org)

Interesting tidbit, right?  Lets focus on the fact that civic leaders choose Tuesdays to foster and encourage participation based on the end user’s convenience.  They would get higher turnout and engage more citizens for elections if people were able to actually come and vote.  200 years later the majority of the population a) dont live on farms, b) ‘ worship for 3 days and c) are as busy on Tuesday as they are on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.   Yet our elected officials have made no major effort to change the voting process to be convenient for the general public.   The result is incredibly low voter turnout across the USA (averaging 38% of eligible voters actually do).  Today most voting problems are process problems – not being able to find a polling place, can’t physically get to the polling site, can’t get time off etc.  Its not that the youths are lazy or that people are disenfranchised; the people who want to vote just can’t.

TurboVote looks at ways to recapture the idea that the process of voting should be responsive to the voter’s availability.  Seth looked at tech solutions to engage and make voting more convenient for potential voters.  Advocating and lobbying to change voting from Tuesday, in a country that cant reach consensus to get rid of the penny, is probably not the way forward.  But putting a better end user experience on the existing voting process that, reflexive to the jurisdiction the voter is in, is do-able.  Thats what TurboVote is doing.

TurboVote is to the absentee ballot what Netflix is to the DVD – a better way of access.  It builds upon No Excuse voting laws in 30 states by actively pushing ballots into peoples mailboxes-  by keeping their addresses up to date and reminding the user to mail it in. In states such as New York, where absentee voting is prohibited for able-bodied and present people, it will still provide you with all the relevant info on where, how and when to vote. TurboVote will will also track your voter registration status and application, remind you to vote by shooting you a text with your polling location, remind you to update your information, and track the upcoming elections for all levels of government.  And Turbo Vote is working with colleges to integrate voter registration into students lives;  at Harvard and Miami Dade, voter registration has become integrated into the class registration process.Voting solutions for people in mobile society have arrived.

Several OpenPlanner’s have signed up for it and this blogger gives it a healthy recommendation – its easy and simple – head over to turbovote.org and register.  It’s a hell of a lot easier than loading up your horse and buggy and heading to the county seat.