By: Terri Brax, CEO, Women Tech Founders
Aviva Rosman is co-founder and COO of BallotReady, a startup that helps voters make informed decisions down the ballot. Aviva is also the recipient of the 2017 Midwest Women in Tech Award for Social Impact.
As a pioneer in voter education, Aviva recently spoke with Women Tech Founders to discuss how startup leaders can get involved this election season and what the tech community can do to build a culture of civic engagement for the long term.
Tech Can Support Political Action on the Ground
From a product point of view, Aviva knows that no app can win an election.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from my time with BallotReady is that technology will never be a silver bullet in politics,” she says. “The question we ask ourselves instead is: how can we use technology to support political action on the ground?”
Just as there are many problems in our complicated electoral system, there are many possible ways to solve them. A way to make a real impact is to single in on one of those problems and leverage technology to improve the experience of the people shaping our democracy from the ground up: voters and organizers.
BallotReady is designed to help the voter who walks into a voting booth with no idea who to vote for. The platform provides ballot information for every election in a voter’s registered address, including races they may not know much about, like aldermen or county commissioners. That way, there are fewer guesses and blanks, and more ballots completed in confidence.
Local Elections Matter Just As Much As the Presidential Election
A central tenet of BallotReady’s philosophy is that local elections are just as important as state and federal elections.
But not many people know much about local and judicial candidates and referenda, which makes for lower turnout in those races. According to a study from The New York Times in 2018, just 27 percent of eligible voters participate in the typical municipal election.
Make downballot voting a priority in November and encourage your community to follow suit. Find out which elections are happening in Chicago (or wherever you’re voting) and learn about what’s at stake. Issues at the forefront of local elections can range from tax decisions to housing laws to city budgets, the kinds of issues that affect everyone.
Founders Encourage Civic Engagement by Supporting Political Enablement
You don’t need to launch a tech solution to make a difference this election season. When a founder equips their employees with educational resources, it sends a strong signal to get out the vote.
There’s been a lot of uncertainty around voting during COVID-19, to say the least. Voters of all ages have questions about everything from securing a mail-in ballot to registering to vote.
Aviva recommends startup leaders support voter turnout ahead of Election Day with the following actions:
- Help your employees make a voting plan. Find or create guides for your employees about voter registration, voting by mail, voting early, and Election Day logistics. Vote.org has a helpful checklist. If many employees plan to vote at polling centers on Election Day, consider giving them the day off.
- Ensure your employees have the resources they need to be informed across the ballot. Share information about all the elections and measures on the ballot for your employees. (This may vary if your team is based in several locations; BallotReady’s state-by-state overviews are a good place to start, like this one for Illinois.)
- Throw a ballot party. To make voter education fun and engaging, consider hosting a (virtual) company gathering that gives your employees an opportunity to discuss their ballots and learn about local elections. BallotReady recently prepared a 2020 Toolkit for hosts with all the tools they need to throw a great ballot party, even in a digital space.
Whether you choose to share handy resources informally over Slack or create a brand campaign around voting is up to you, but both avenues will help make sure more people are casting their ballots this fall.
Keep Up the Energy Beyond Election Day
What’s next for BallotReady after 2020? Finding a way to keep the civic engagement momentum of election season year-round, says Aviva.
After Election Day, beyond finding out who your representatives are and calling or emailing them, there aren’t too many ways for people to get involved in the issues they care about. Aviva says she wants to eventually see BallotReady become a resource for civic engagement outside of elections.
But this isn’t only a question for BallotReady. Startup founders should be curious about what civic engagement will look like in 2021 and how their companies can commit to it in the long term.
If you threw a ballot party and it was a great success, how can you turn that into regular programming? If your employees expressed interest in getting more involved in organizing, how can you support them?
Recognize the Power of Unintended Positive Consequences
“COVID-19 has made me reflect a lot on unintended positive consequences,” says Aviva. “Everything the pandemic has spurred with vote-by-mail initiatives is actually supporting universal eligibility, and that’ll have long lasting effects.”
This is a timeless reminder that dates back to Aviva’s early days with BallotReady. It applies to just about anything: the pandemic, the election, and a startup’s founding journey.
No one is in complete control of their life or their business, even the most strategic planners. Aviva learned to embrace this fact when she first launched BallotReady with her co-founders, the first time in her life she didn’t have a clear-cut path toward her next milestone.
As founders, it’s important to remember that great things can come out of even the most turbulent of times when you focus on solving a problem you really care about.
This blog is one in a series of member spotlights for Women Tech Founders (WTF), a Chicago-based organization that provides women in technology with the resources and support network they need to thrive, innovate, and ultimately change the world.
For more information about WTF’s community of startup founders, technologists, corporate executives, angel investors, and venture capitalists, or for more information on how you can get involved, visit womentechfounders.com.
To hear from more founders like Aviva who are making a difference through election-focused tech startups, check out our upcoming event on October 14th: Politics, Power, and Pioneers: Female Founders Driving Civic Engagement.