On a special election-themed episode, new data on the state of our democracy and the audacious missions of tech startups dedicated to opening up ballots at both ends — for voters and prospective candidates.
An off-year election creates the opportunity to take stock of the state of our civics. Election Day coincides with the release of new analysis on voter turnout in local elections. Portland State University's Who Votes For Mayor? project details a disturbing downward trend across the 30 largest cities in the United States.
"Democracy is in more danger now than at any time in my lifetime for a very simple reason," says Phil Keisling, director of the PSU Center of Public Service, "it is because so many people are exiting the arena."
Keisling, a former Oregon Secretary of State, says, "Democracy has become a spectator sport in every election, except president."
Still, the new PSU analysis indicate that local election participation — that is, who votes for mayor — is determiniative of results in 90 percent of congressional races. Keisling sees potential for communities to regain control of their futures if younger and diverse voters begin to take balloting seriously. The longtime champion of the vote-by-mail or vote-at-home movement says much of the blame for the tepid voting rates is on the ballot itself.
Enter a pair of civic startups, each focused at opposite ends of the balloting process. BallotReady provides a single, independent, online source of candidate information down to the voting track level.
Last week, for example, Allegheny County, Pa, Controller Chelsa Wagner announced a partnership with BallotReady to give her community hyper-local candidate, office, and polling location data — a view of election information the startup is building out on a 50-state basis in anticipation of the 2020 general election.
If BallotReady is voter-facing, another startup is candidate-facing. As its name suggests, RunForOffice.org allows prospective candiates to find out opportunities to run among 116,242 elected offices by simply entering their street address.
Phil Keisling (PLU), Aviva Rosman (BallotReady) and Jim Cupples (RunForOffice.org) are all guests on this episode of NSFG.
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