Democracy Works launches new voter tool, expands programs

Journalism / Article

Voters waiting in line. Photo by Flickr user redagainPatti.

Seth Flaxman is co-founder and executive director of Democracy Works.

Innovation is at the heart of Democracy Works, a civic tech nonprofit I co-founded five  years ago to make voting easier. As Democracy Works grew, creating partnerships with funders that shared our vision became increasingly important. Working with Knight Foundation has been a perfect example of how funders and grantees can grow and learn together as we seek to achieve transformational impact. RELATED LINKS

Towards empathetic disruption: Civic tech and doing what works” by John Bracken and Lucas Hernandez on Knight Blog, 03/04/15

Balancing technology risks and benefits in elections” by Jeremy Epstein on Knight blog, 03/02/15

To improve civic participation we need transparency” by Chris Gates on Knight blog, 02/26/15

“Civic engagement essential to strengthening democracy” by Kelly Born on Knight blog, 02/25/15

Knight News Challenge on Elections opens for ideas” by Chris Barr and Shazna Nessa on Knight blog, 02/25/15

Knight News Challenge to focus on Elections” on Knight blog, 02/12/15

This week, Democracy Works announced $1,000,000 in support  from Knight Foundation and  $400,000 from the MacArthur Foundation for our second round of fundraising, which began in late 2014. Because of their support, we’re on track to become financially sustainable and can continue building innovative technology that helps Americans more actively engage in our democracy.

Born out of foundation support and individual donations, Democracy Works has emerged as a model for nonprofit long-term sustainability; partner institutions such as  colleges, nonprofits and governments contribute to our programs to take advantage of our technology. Financial sustainability will allow Democracy Works to become a permanent force in American civic life.

Back in 2012, Knight supported the development of our flagship program, TurboVote, a site where any citizen could sign up online once and then be connected to our democracy for  life. The site can help voters stay registered as they move, makes it easier to vote by mail, find polling places, get Election Day reminders: whatever a voter needs. As Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen has put it to me: “I can imagine a future in which Americans will carry three things with them throughout their life: a Social Security number, their mobile number, and their TurboVote membership.”

Over the years, our partners at Knight Foundation learned alongside us, and we decided that to scale our impact, we had to work hand in hand with the public servants who actually run elections: local elections administrators. So we launched our second program, Ballot Scout, a tool designed with input from elections officials across the country to help voters and administrators track mail-in ballots through the postal system as easily as someone can track an Amazon package.

As it turns out, Knight Foundation’s partnership with us was just scratching the surface;  there is still so much important work to do when it comes to elections. That’s why I encourage you to apply for the Knight News Challenge, an open call for ideas to better inform and inspire voters, as well as make the election process more fun and accessible for individuals. And I would like to give a very special push to our friends working in county and municipal election offices to throw their ideas into the ring.

Creativity knows no restrictions and Knight Foundation, along with its News Challenge partners, the Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Rita Allen Foundation,  is providing you the perfect platform to create your own solution for making elections better with a  share of $3 million! I encourage everyone to start brainstorming and apply soon. If your idea wins, you couldn’t ask for a better partner.

Knight News Challenge: Elections asks the question, How might we better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections? The best ideas will share in more than $3 million. Apply at by 5 p.m. ET March 19. Winners will be announced in June.