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New Service Aims To Make Voting Easy

Monday, September 24, 2012

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.

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Comments [2]

Skanner Constant from Salem, Oregon

This sounds like a wonderful idea! However, how does it get around all the voter suppression efforts being made in some states? It appears that one of the groups targeted by TurboVote are college students. Does TurboVote have experts on hand to help college students navigate through the obstacles to voting being placed in their way by those more interested in voter suppression than in fair elections?

More power to you -- keep up the good work!

Sep. 26 2012 02:13 PM
Norton from Nutley, NJ

The voting is the easy part; the hard part is finding relevant information on the local (and to some extents the national) candidates as well as ballot measures.

WNYC and other news outlets perform a valuable service in this respect; but there is still some lacking in this area. Obviously it takes a lot of money and time (neither of which is available) to cover every local issue and candidate.

With this said, keep up the great work!!!

Sep. 24 2012 09:15 AM

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