Students develop new app to increase voter turnout

Five USC students have created an app that aims to increase civic voter turnout, especially in the state of California.

Andrew Jiang, Michael Lim, Lucas Johnson, Alex Teboul and Arush Shankar won Spark SC’s Futurethon, a 48-hour hacking competition, with BallotView. The free and nonpartisan app allows voters to preview their state’s local ballot, learn details about each measure and candidate and save a receipt of their choices to take to the polls.

The students said that they came up with the idea because of the disorderly layout of ballots and the lack of media attention on ballot measures at the state and local level.

Lim, a senior majoring in economics and computational neuroscience, said that understanding these local measures is important because they affect citizens much more than national ones. In California, Lim said, the ballot initiative process allows citizens to propose new legislation without having to go through bureaucratic channels.

“If people aren’t aware of what is going to be voted on, then it just kind of opens the door for either poorly written legislation or allowing special interest groups to make their way onto the ballot,” Lim said. “We’re hoping that our product can help people sift through all the information in a much friendlier and quicker way, so that they don’t feel overwhelmed and [instead] feel empowered.”

According to Lim, the Nov. 8 election is a pilot run for the new application. State ballot previews are available for almost all 50 states, and the organization hopes to have detailed content on propositions and candidates for states aside from California in the upcoming years.

Over the past 10 weeks, the students have been given the opportunity to build their idea and work hand in hand with Global Shapers, an initiative to improve private partnerships around the world through a network of diverse individuals advocating for social change.

Shelby Kretz, a member of the Global Shapers Los Angeles Hub, said she hopes the app generates enough reach to prove whether or not it is impactful.

“We will work with Futurethon partners and the BallotView team after the election to determine if their solution helped increase down-ballot and millennial engagement,” Kretz said. “We will share our findings with the government in L.A., nonprofits, corporation partners and the overall community.”

Nate Kaplan, the founder of See Political, a nonprofit organization that creates animations explaining ballot propositions, and an advisor to the five creators of BallotView, said that the app is relevant because tackling low voter turnout among youth voters will require applying methods specifically tailored to millennials.

“Millennials vote less than any generation in American history, but they actually do more volunteer work and more community service than any generation in American history,” Kaplan said. “You know reading hundreds of pages of text just doesn’t make sense in 2016. So what we try to do is … parse down the issues so educating yourself isn’t so painful.”