New Service Aims To Make Voting Easy

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A new online service wants to make voting as easy as renting a movie on Netflix. 

It’s called TurboVote. And, this is how it works:

Once a user signs up, TurboVote tracks their registration status and election calendar.  If they need to register or vote by mail, TurboVote will mail them a completed registration form or absentee ballot application with a pre-addressed stamped envelope. The prospective voter just needs to sign it and stick it in the mail.  The service also sends out customized email and text message reminders about elections and where to go to vote, if a person is not voting by mail.

"The idea is to take all the friction out of the voting process," said Seth Flaxman, co-founder and executive director of TurboVote.  "The only thing you have to worry about is who you're going to vote for."

And for people who vote regularly, Flaxman said the service could still be useful if only for the reminders of the many local elections that are easy to miss. 

With many elections garnering low voter turnout, he sees TurboVote as a means to build a stronger democracy by connecting Americans to elections that happen in-between the big presidential votes every four years.

"Only about half of us are voting in presidential elections," said Flaxman.  "Only about 40 percent are voting in primary elections.  And in local elections, you'll often see turnout between 10 and 15 percent.  When turnout is that low, it's easier for insiders and special interests to control the outcome of elections."

Finding a better way to connect people to elections came partly out of the personal experience Flaxman and his friends had when they were in college. 

"I'm not an apathetic person," Flaxman said.  "But I kept missing so many elections.  I thought there's got to be some sort of process problem if I'm missing elections."

The non-profit, non-partisan service is mostly free.  It only charges a small fee to cover the cost of printing and mailing any voter registration or vote-by-mail application forms, if ever needed.  The fee is $1.60 per form or $5.00 for all mailings needed for the year.

Brooklyn-based TurboVote has also partnered with 54 colleges including Columbia University, Rutgers University and University of Florida. Some schools cover the TurboVote’s fee, while others offer students an opportunity to sign up for TurboVote when they register for classes or log onto the school's intranet page.  According to Flaxman, TurboVote has signed up close to 20,000 people over the past two weeks at its partner schools alone.