A startup is aiming to move local elections to the top of the ballot with a new website that compiles candidate data from multiple sources.
BallotReady.org covers elections in 10 states, including Illinois, by supplying basic, nonpartisan information on candidates from the presidential race down to judicial contests. The Chicago-based organization’s focus is on providing insights into local races that many voters might not even realize are taking place.
“Most people are decided about the president, but when they get to the voting booth, they see all of those offices and names they’ve never heard of,” said Alex Niemczewski, BallotReady’s CEO. “Our specialty is local candidates, local ballot measures.”
The website uses a visitor’s address to determine what will appear on his or her ballot in the upcoming election, then provides a brief biography of each candidate, the candidates’ stances on key issues, lists of endorsements and news about the candidates.
The information is culled from a variety of sources, including local election boards, candidate websites, news articles and endorsing organizations.
Woodstock intellectual property attorney Genna Hibbs, who represents BallotReady, said she thinks the startup’s aim is laudable, especially during a contentious election.
“I feel like in this last election season … questions about the facts and whether or not there is a spin on things has become more and more of an issue, as journalism has opened up and people can cherry-pick their worldview,” Hibbs said. “I have a lot of respect for Alex and the rest of the team. It’s such an admirable goal, to see a need and fill it.”
BallotReady is small — it has seven full-timers and six interns — but it has managed to attract an impressive bipartisan board of advisors that includes David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s chief campaign strategist, and GOP strategist Mike Murphy. Niemczewski and her cofounders, Aviva Rosman and Sebastian Ellesson, attended the University of Chicago, where they made connections that allowed them to expand the site from what had been a small, personal project for Niemczewski into an organization looking to expand nationwide — and beyond.
“We want to cover every candidate in every election in every democratic country,” Niemczewski said. “But we’ll start with the U.S.”
The site is funded with a combination of angel investors and grants, Niemczewski said.
BallotReady has identified more than half of its users as Millennials, but Niemczewski said she’s talked to people older than 80 who’ve used it in the voting booth. Her target audience, she said, is anyone of voting age.
“No matter how you feel about the candidates, whether you’re more excited than ever or more frustrated and disappointed and tired than ever, your vote has so much power in local elections. Some of these races are decided by 10 or 11 votes,” Niemczewski said. “… Until now, people are guessing, they’re leaving blanks. We want people to be able to use their vote in a real way.”