BallotReady to Reach 50 Million Voters in All 50 States
More than 15 million Americans have turned 18 since the 2016 election, and 63% of Americans ages 18 – 29 plans to vote in the 2020 General Election, according to Forbes.
To register these younger voters, major social media platforms Snapchat and TikTok have partnered with BallotReady, the comprehensive, nonpartisan, online voting guide co-founded by University of Chicago alum Alex Niemczewski, AB ’09.
BallotReady began as an individual project. During the 2014 midterm elections, Niemczewski made herself a website to keep track of the candidates, especially the local ones whom she didn’t know. She reached out to her future co-founder, Aviva Rosman, AB ’10, MPP ’16, for expertise, since Rosman had recently run for local office and won. From there, the two grew the site, which became the basis for BallotReady.
With BallotReady, Niemczewski, CEO, and Rosman, COO, won the 2015 John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC), the accelerator program that focuses on businesses with social missions and is run by the Polsky Center and the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation. Niemczewski said they knew if they went through the SNVC, BallotReady “would get a lot of good, critical feedback, both from Booth faculty and staff.” Their goal had been to refine the business model, get customers, and plan operations. “Getting a lot of critical, constant feedback on those as we were developing them just made them a lot better,” she added.
The duo then went on to the 2016 George Shultz Innovation Fund, the venture-philanthropy fund that invests in startups. There, Rosman and Niemczewski received important customer feedback during the ten-week due diligence phase. “We still use that information today,” Niemczewski noted. The process gave rise to the revenue model that BallotReady still has in place.
Also in 2016, the platform began covering elections in 12 states. By 2017, BallotReady covered everything in all 50 states and in 2018 reached more than seven million voters. Now, with its social media and brand name partnerships (such as Patagonia), the voting guide is on track to reach 50 million before the election in November. Niemczewski has already seen ten times as many people use BallotReady’s tools on all platforms compared to 2018.
“There’s a lot of information in the media about voting and it can be overwhelming,” said Niemczewski. “Our goal is to give people the information that’s relevant to them.” BallotReady does this by having users input their address on the website. This way, they can check their voter registration, request a ballot, find important deadlines, and learn about candidates and measures that will appear on their state’s ballot.
The initial challenge the voter guide faced was compiling local election information. “When we started, there was no single database of when local elections [were],” Niemczewski said. “Often the state doesn’t even know when local elections are happening or what candidates are going to be on a local ballot.” While putting together the guide for those 12 states in 2016, the team implemented its nonpartisan research process. “We gather specific categories of information for each candidate,” explained Niemczewski. “Where they went to school, where they worked, their stances on issues in their own words, and who endorses them.”
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused concern over voting methods for the 2020 General Election. As a result, Niemczewski has increased the information available about voting by mail on the platform. “We want to empower the voter to make the choice that makes the most sense for them,” she said, “and not push them one way or the other.” Since March, BallotReady has had a section that allows users to easily sign up for voting by mail. This includes information about nearby drop box locations and important ballot deadlines.
Though November 3 is just a few weeks away, Niemczewski already has her sights set on the local 2021 elections. “These are the elections that a lot of people don’t vote in, a lot of people don’t know about,” she said, “but the offices that are up for election make really important decisions on things like healthcare, the economy, education, policing.” BallotReady will continue its social media partnerships during that cycle to encourage voter turnout.