Deepening engagement in elections: TurboVote expands in South Florida

Journalism / Article

Knight Foundation is helping TurboVote, which aims to make the voting process as easy as renting from Netflix, expand into new communities and develop its platform. The funding is part of a series of Knight grants that support new ways to deepen Americans’ engagement in elections and foster more informed communities.

Co-Founder Seth Flaxman talks about the effort:

Our democracy is in trouble. The United States ranks 138th in voter participation – behind every major democracy, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

As a grad student, I was on my way to contributing to the problem when I missed three elections in a row. I figured it was easier to build TurboVote, a platform that simplifies the voting process, than to find a printer and stamp to change my registration and then keep track of when local elections were taking place.

Looking back two years later, it turned out that TurboVote was sort of hard to build – but I’m still glad we did it.

TurboVote makes voting by mail as convenient as renting a Netflix DVD, with the goal of keeping Americans registered and making sure they don’t miss any elections, from school board to presidential.

The service is for all citizens, but we’re getting started on college campuses. We launched at Harvard College this past fall and half the freshman class signed up. This spring, we’re excited to be launching at America’s largest college, Miami Dade College, with support from Knight Foundation. The University of Miami and Florida International University will follow.

Here’s how it works: TurboVote tracks your election calendar and can mail completed vote by mail applications or registration forms along with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes, send text and email reminders for all related deadlines or simply remind someone of their election calendar if they’re already registered and want to vote in person.

Updating our democracy is important.  The Internet has revolutionized our lives, making everything more awesome – buying presents, finding information, renting movies – everything, that is, except for voting. We vote on a Tuesday because in the 1700s, that was the most convenient day for farmers to vote. Our nation’s founders knew that democracy was made for man, not man made for democracy, and so they designed a voting process to fit how people lived.

That’s why (especially to my generation) the current process feels as weird and confusing as a fax machine. According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, most of the young people ages 18 to 24 that didn’t vote in 2010 missed out because the voting process didn’t fit the way they lived – 66.2% of college students reported not participating because they were out of town or away from home, forgot, or were too busy with work.

Democracy is important, and it only works when it fits the way we live. We’re excited that Knight Foundation is helping to bring American democracy into the Internet age.