Vote (Mostly) Online Feeds Millennials’ Need for One-Click Apps

For better or worse, the millennial generation has come to expect instant gratification and the ability to complete almost any daily task with just the click of a button on a smartphone or personal computer.

One activity that, for the most part, has not kept pace with rapid technological advancements is voting. That’s why a group of Madison, WI, tech entrepreneurs has created a free service to allow Wisconsin residents to vote in state elections online—sort of.

Vote (Mostly) Online allows users to quickly verify if they’re registered to vote and, if not, to fill out some personal information on the website—including uploading proof of residency such as a photo of an electric bill—and request an official voter registration form in the mail. Next, the website lets visitors request that an absentee ballot be mailed to them, review biographical information of all the candidates up for election, and click on who they intend to vote for in each race.

Meanwhile, Vote (Mostly) Online, (we’ll call it VMO for short), handles all the back-end grunt work. If someone isn’t registered to vote, VMO will print off, fill out, and mail the registration form to the person, who only needs to sign the document and send it to the clerk’s office in the prepaid envelope provided by VMO. For registered voters, the site will contact the clerk’s office to request the absentee ballot on their behalf. After that, VMO will e-mail users to ensure they received the documents in the mail and remind them to fill out and mail in the ballot—including reminding them who they “voted” for on the website.

Although users aren’t actually voting online, the startup’s co-founders believe they’re easing the process and nudging young people to follow through. It’s not that millennials don’t care about participating in democracy, VMO says on its website, it’s that voting “feels like such a pain, and we’re not used to doing things like going to physical places or working with printers and stamps (snail mail is so 20th century).”

“The biggest thing is the psychology,” says Mike Fenchel, co-founder of VMO and Madison co-working space 100state. “We’re in an age of instant gratification. People like to do something that’s taking an action they enjoy.”

This isn’t the only ongoing effort to bring America’s voting system into the 21st century. San Diego-based Everyone Counts, for example, created a suite of software products to bypass voting machines and paper ballots. The company’s customers include government jurisdictions in the U.S. and other countries. It has facilitated completely online voting for elections in West Virginia, Colorado, and Hawaii, as well as private-sector contests like the Oscar and Emmy awards, says founder and CEO Lori Steele-Contorer.

Her company hasn’t yet been involved in any Wisconsin elections, she says, but she has done some preliminary research and would like to bring Everyone Counts to the Badger State.

VMO, meanwhile, isn’t making any money off of its website, at least for now. Its co-founders volunteered their time to get it off the ground. (Besides Fenchel, the other founders include Niko Skievaski, also a 100state co-founder, and Kyle Pfister and Chris Franson, founders of Ninjas for Health.)

After the pilot in Wisconsin’s November election, VMO is considering licensing the software to political campaigns as a white-label service, who could use it to improve the chances that constituents who express an interest in voting for a candidate follow through, Fenchel says.

“Campaigns and nonprofits have resources to reach out and call voters; they have their lists,” Skievaski says. Having the VMO service “in their bag of tools” could “be powerful for them,” he adds.

Even if the white-label service takes off, the startup plans to … Next Page »

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Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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