The Presidential elections in the United States are controlled by money. Candidates spend time raising money, setting up organizations that collect money, and hire people whose job it is to take care of the money. They pledge money and take money. Then, at the end of the year, all of the candidates compare how much money they’ve raised, and whoever raises the most wins the election.
For close to fifty years it has been this way, and one company is fed up with it. That company? Votizen. And they are coming locked-and-loaded with a plan.
Votizen’s CEO David Binetti spared some time to talk with PandoDaily to detail his company’s ambitious strategy. The goal is to replace the need for money to win an election with a new ‘currency’: social connections. That translates into a complete overhaul of the current campaign process, and along the way angering some of the most powerful people in the world.
For some back story, let’s look at how elections truly work right now. To win an election, a candidate raises an insane amount of money to spend on advertising and outreach. Most funds are allocated for television ads, direct mail campaigns, and robocalls. None of these are particularly advanced technologically, and all of them are increasingly expensive during election cycles. For candidates that don’t have a massive political organization behind them and the associated funding, winning an election is all but impossible. That means no truly independent candidates, and a reliance on partisan politics.
Contrast that with Votizen’s initiative. Instead of relying on blanket campaigns that spam voters with prerecorded messages, Votizen is working to make outreach more personal by connecting people based on issues they care about and targeting the constituency based on specific and verified information.
Think of it like this. Instead of seeing various attack ads during an election, you instead go on to Votizen, accessing the site via tie-ins with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and notice that half of your friends are talking about SOPA. So you begin to research SOPA, find out what people think about it, and are influenced by the most trusted of all sources: friends. This shift empowers both voters and candidates. Voters are empowered with more information and more direct access to candidates, while candidates receive attention they wouldn’t normally receive without millions of dollars.
None of this would work, though, if Votizen didn’t have an impressive engineering team behind it. Not only does Votizen provide a networking tool for voters, but it also has the ability to target people based off of very specific information. The information comes from within the US Voter Registry, with millions of entries of individual information. With such sensitive data, Votizen needs a secure environment to exist. Due to the focus on engineering over feature-growth, they have been able to completely secure voter information.
That being said, Votizen isn’t all engineering. Unlike other startups, it has a very defined social agenda, as well as definite plans on how to implement it. While avoiding taking sides, Votizen does highlight important issues like SOPA and the Startup Visa, bringing them to the attention of people who are normally categorized as apolitical. It does this to a large degree of success, with 82% of people weighing in on the Startup Visa not having a record of political activity.
Votizen doesn’t only want to become a platform for national elections, though. Over the course of the next few months, Binetti made it clear that they will be expanding vertically into local elections, ranging from the dog catcher to the school board. With nearly half of a million people running for office every year in various local elections, it is a largely untapped, and yet influential, market. Following this expansion, Votizen also plans on enabling new forms of action. While Binetti didn’t go into detail on this count, it appears that writing letters only to receive a boilerplate response from a candidate may be replaced with new types of political activism.
There are two challenges coming to Votizen in the coming weeks and months. The first is Super Tuesday. As the Republican primaries continue to drag on — how many debates have there been so far? 100? 1,000 — Votizen will need to prove itself on two fronts on the biggest election day of the primaries.
The first is whether or not the system can scale as a platform, and whether or not it can scale as a technology. Of course, we won’t know until the day after Super Tuesday (“Drink Away The Losses Wednesday”), but it is vitally important that Votizen comes across as a stable, secure and informative site.
The second challenge Votizen faces will be attacks that come with increased exposure. While it has survived under the radar so far, it will likely become very popular this year, with the combination of celebrity endorsements, as well as it being a major election year. This increased scrutiny will lead to the system getting angry. In a future where lobbyists don’t wield as much power and PAC’s don’t control elections, Votizen will be vilified by those cast aside.
Of course, anyone that consistently angers campaign managers, lobbyists and PAC’s sounds like a good company to me.
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