Voting app is solid cheat sheet for voters

Emily Kuhn created 1myVote to help voters
Voting app is solid cheat sheet for voters

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s Election Day. You’re excited/obligated to perform your civic duty. Find polling place: Check. As of late, show ID: Check. State your first and last name to the extremely friendly poll worker and scribble your signature in the book: Check. “I Voted” sticker: For sure! Ballot: Check. Big, important race that you know all about: Fill in the oval with fuzzy pen. The county treasurer guy running unopposed: Somebody’s gotta do the job so, sure, oval. The city alder: I like what I’ve read about the incumbent in the paper so, yeah, oval. The county supervisor: Wait, what? Scratch head. Contemplate phone Googling. Look around nonchalantly for a neighbor friend you could ask. Good old-fashioned game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe? Shoot. Who are these people and why are they on my ballot?

Emily Kuhn experienced this kind of frustration, staring blankly at a ballot inside her west side Madison voting booth in November 2014. Less than a year later, she had an app for that called 1myVote. The tool, which went live on iTunes in June 2015, is part voter education, part civic engagement and, eventually, if all goes as planned, a market research tool for candidates.

A new mom to her colicky firstborn, Kuhn was busy, tired and unprepared for the first time in her voting life. With a double major in international political economics and Spanish and a master’s degree in public policy, Kuhn, 40, is a self-described political junkie who never misses an election day. In the past, she voted with complete confidence in her choices–right down to the register of deeds.

“I got halfway down the ballot and had no idea who I was voting for,” Kuhn says. “I thought, ‘How do people do this?'”

Desperate for answers, she pulled out her smartphone in search of a cheat sheet–something that compared candidate platforms. No such luck. That’s when Kuhn experienced the “aha” moment, an idea “to help voters feel empowered to make a decision and feel confident going into the voting booth.”

With 10 years of experience designing internal software applications for the federal government, Kuhn launched 1myVote. She hired two web programmers, three interns and three tech ambassadors to shop the app around, and began populating the program with local, state and federal elections. The user experience begins with downloading the app and finding your state.

Here’s a quick tutorial using a state legislative race as our guide. I couldn’t remember my state Assembly district, so I tapped over to the nice “resources” menu and found a link to “Find My District.” I scrolled down to my district, and I had a choice between selecting one political party or all parties. I chose all parties and landed on a page with a headshot of the incumbent and one for her challenger, followed by each candidate’s top three issues, according to official campaign platforms. If you click to vote for a candidate, the app compiles your preferences into a “My Ballot” page of everyone you plan to support. This feature serves as a handy reference guide and solution to the guessing game that Kuhn and many of us play when Election Day rolls around–especially for primaries, when choices can be more abundant.

If the users reach a critical mass, Kuhn says, the voting feature could also provide a way for campaigns to glean real-time data on the mood of the electorate. My favorite feature is the “Run for Office–Yourself!” resource button, with links to partisan and nonpartisan campaign training opportunities.

1myVote is at the early stages of its quest to become a one-stop shop for voters in the Midwest–and perhaps beyond.

“We were shocked,” says Kuhn, by a national marketing survey that 1myVote commissioned for people ages 17 to 74. Across the board, 92 percent responded positively to the idea. “We’re onto something.”

Kuhn and her team are building, testing and enhancing from their laptops, as well as at Synergy, a new coworking building near University Avenue and Whitney Way. The office and event space is available to any entrepreneur. They place an emphasis on gender and racial diversity in the startup community, while also encouraging innovation city-wide, not just downtown.