Voter turnout is always a challenge for the United States. Typical turnout is 50% for presidential elections, 40% for mid-term elections and only 10% in local, special and primary elections. One state, Oregon, changed its voting system to increase participation by switching to a vote-by-mail for every election. This way residents aren’t limited by a certain day, time or location to let their vote be heard.
Many states still struggle with voting turnouts and Seth Flaxman, co-founder of TurboVote, knew there had to be some way use the Internet to bring the simplicity of the Oregon-style voting system to everyone.
Seth always believed strongly in democracy and in high school, he drove his friend to the polls so they could vote for the school budget. After moving away for graduate school, Seth missed a couple of elections. Dissatisfied with the lack of services to help people vote, Seth founded TurboVote with fellow Harvard Kennedy School of Government students Kathryn Peters and Amanda Cassel Kraft.
Before every election, TurboVote helps people get registered to vote and helps them vote by mail. After the envelopes go out in the mail, TurboVote sends email and SMS reminders so people don’t forget. Powered by Twilio, CTO Paul Schreiber implemented two-way SMS that not only reminds people of election deadlines, but lets voters reach out to the team with questions. Most recently, the team launched a mobile and Spanish versions of the service.
In September of 2010, TurboVote piloted the service at Boston University. In November 2010, the team raised seed money with a grassroots campaign on Kickstarter paired with funding from the Sunlight Foundation. Next fall, they kicked off their service with Harvard College. The team hasn’t slowed down since launch with funding from multiple sources including the Knight Foundation and Google, and partnering with universities across the US.
Keep watching for a bunch of new features from TurboVote, including the ability to sponsor mailings for your friends and family. TurboVote’s goal is simple: help as many people vote by mail as possible to make sure those votes are counted. The team aims to bring on more nonprofit and collegiate partners to help achieve that goal.