This company wants to make sure you vote for the right person in Illinois' primary

by Sam Dewey
February 22, 2016

Primary season is afoot, election fever has long since set in, and even through the cacophony certain presidential candidates seem to stir up every day or two, many voters have managed to pick a horse they're willing to stick with.

Most of those voters can cite at least a single issue that won them over. When election day arrives, they’ll head to their ballot stations with some information on candidates and his or her competitors.

The problem, though, comes when that voter proudly punches a ticket only to realize there’s a host of other candidates for local positions still on the ballot.

That’s where Chicago-based

swoops in.

“We are an online voter guide for local elections, and our goal is to make it easy to vote informed on every candidate on your ballot,” said Alex Niemczewski, BallotReady’s CEO.

Niemczewski said she became acutely aware of the issue after experiencing it firsthand in 2012. She began asking around and found that most voters struggled to come to the polls with a comprehensive understanding of their ballot.

And it’s not just average Joes and Janes that conceded confusion. Those she interviewed included a political reporter who felt informed enough to vote in the ward they cover but not in the ward where they lived and a political science professor who admitted to voting for a candidate based solely on his name.

It works like this: Prior to the primary, Illinois voters can peruse the BallotReady website to find comprehensive information on any candidate scheduled to show up on their ballots. All they need to do is enter where they are registered to vote and what political party they’d like candidates pulled from. From there, users can compare candidates on polemical issues like immigration, healthcare reform, or gun control and read up on experience, endorsements, and recent news.

That information, Niemczewski said, is widely accessible for top-billed presidential candidates but is much harder to find for, say, State Comptroller or Circuit Court Clerk nominees.

The company is far from the first service of its kind, but Niemczewski said other companies with similar missions tend to fizzle out post-season, run dry of both election steam and funding.

But BallotReady said they differentiate themselves with a more applicable revenue model: candidates can pay to opt in to ads that run on their respective profiles. For many a local candidate, whose ad-opportunities have been monopolized by richer or more established incumbents, it's a real boon. 

Since its inception in 2015, the company has partnered with a number of local organizations, including Chicago Votes, TurboVote, and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. Niemczewski said those partnerships gave her company a leg up in Booth’s Social New Venture Challenge, a competition that earned the company $30,000 thanks to a first-place win. In addition to those funds, she said the company has also received grants from organizations like the Knight Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

After the primary in Illinois, Niemczewski said the team will focus on raising a seed round. Until then, they’re committed to making sure Illinois voters are as informed as possible come March 15.

BallotReady will also be covering Kentucky’s primary in May and Florida’s come August.

Image via BallotReady. 

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