By Allison Matyus
By now, most eligible American voters probably know which candidate they are voting for in the presidential election on Nov. 8, but local elections are a completely different story. Not everyone can identify who is running for judge in their area or even define what the role of a comptroller is, and the Chicago startup BallotReady is trying to change that.
BallotReady, a non-partisan online voter guide with a focus on tech-enabled candidate coverage, was created by CEO Alex Niemczewski out of her own experience in the voting booth.
“In 2012, I was really excited to vote for president but I left the booth feeling guilty because I didn’t really know the rest of the ballot and I felt like I didn’t do my full civic duty,” she said.
She made the first version of BallotReady for herself in order to prepare for the 2014 midterm elections, but quickly realized that this could be beneficial to many people. Since partnering with her co-founder, Aviva Rosman, BallotReady has covered five elections since 2015.
BallotReady’s user-friendly website has voters enter their home address and then provides them with all of the candidates and referendums that will appear on their ballot in the voting booth. Aggregated biographies, stances, endorsements and news appear with each candidate so voters can fully research who they will be voting for.
Niemczewski said that 30 percent of people leave their ballots blank, and her hope is to eliminate the guessing game of voting.
“The real thing that we are doing is to get people to complete their ballots without guessing at all,” she said. “We want people to feel confident about their votes.”
— Pitchfork (@pitchfork) November 4, 2016
Right now, BallotReady covers 10 states: Illinois, California, Colorado, Arizona, Hawaii, New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. BallotReady has also collected information on over 22,000 candidates in federal, state and local races.
Before the 2016 presidential election, there were 120,000 BallotReady users and Niemczewski said thousands more are added every day.
“More than half of our users are millennials, which is great, because statistically, millennials are the least likely to vote,” she said.
According to a Pew Research Center survey from May of this year, only 46 percent of eligible millennials voted in the 2012 elections. Based on her research, Niemczewski said that in local mayoral races across the U.S., the median age of voters is 60.
To urge the importance of voting, especially for the young voter demographic, BallotReady also provides how to register to vote, polling places in your area as well as information on how to vote by mail and how to cast an absentee vote.
Nothin like a corgi in a suit to remind you what's really important in life. Dogs. And voting. pic.twitter.com/PS1R9cJVpm
— BallotReady (@BallotReady) October 20, 2016
Although Election Day is Nov. 8, early voting for Chicago residents began on Oct. 24. Some big elections and referendums on the Chicago ballot include comptroller, Cook County State’s Attorney, Cook Country Clerk of the Circuit Court and the Transportation Lockbox referendum (Amendment 36.)
BallotReady provides information on all of these candidates and referendums in hopes that voters will better understand local politics.
“Our hope is that elections will have more votes in local elections because BallotReady makes it easy to get information,” Niemczewski said. “In the short term, people will feel confident with their votes but in the longer term, it helps give people a better idea of local politics.”
Niemczewski also stressed that election cycles do not just happen every four years. In 2017, approximately 25 states will hold mayoral and/or city council elections.
“There are way more elections than anyone thinks,” she said. “Politics don’t just happen on November 8.”