OMAHA— A lot has changed since Jim Esch ran for Congress in 2008.
The iPhone had just come out the year before. Facebook was still just a platform for friends, not marketing. Twitter had not gained its favor it has today.
But while there has been technological strides elsewhere, money spent in political tech is largely spent perpetuating the system we have now, Esch said.
BallotHero, Esch’s new endeavor, is a site that makes the process of learning which offices you’re voting on and who the candidates are.
He hopes it a tech tool that helps educate voters who may scratch their head at most of the names and offices on the ballot.
“Even for me, and I consider myself a pretty educated voter, I go into the voting booth and have trouble knowing the races and who the candidates are,” Esch told SPN. “I just looked at it and said there’s gotta be a way to do this because the candidate information, the data, is out there.”
And it’s those offices that voters are least likely to know about that have the most effect on our daily lives, Esch said.
“I can tell you who the Senate candidates are, but I couldn’t tell you who your Omaha Public School board member or who your NRD representative is,” Esch said. “Everyone loves voting for President, but quite frankly who is on your school district has a much greater impact on your everyday life than the President does and yet only 30 percent of people turnout for those smaller elections.”
Esch (left) said it’s a certain degree of apathy, but it’s also hard to track down information, making an uninformed and unengaged voter.
BallotHero makes it easier, he says, by checking your voter registration, finding your polling place and telling you what office are up for election and who is running.
Candidates self-submit information or Esch pulls it directly from their websites or social media.
Users then select who they want to vote for and can save their choices to access at the booth or print off a cheat sheet.
Esch said he foresees people using the desktop site before the election because reading all the information can take too long in the voting booth.
It will also be most useful for independent voters, he said.
“People who vote on the party lines don’t need us.”
So far, the site is only available for Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster counties in Nebraska. Esch hopes he can take it national in the future. Esch hopes to get 10,000 users for the Nov. 4 Nebraska election.
“Marketing is going to be very grassroots,” he said.
Local dev and design shops Agape Red and the New BLK partnered to create the site for Esch.
There are competitors—newspapers with voter guides, numerous websites and even a similar locally-based mobile app called Votersnap. Esch said there should be multiple venues for information to get as many people involved as possible.
“As divisive as our system is—its contributed to voter apathy, they hate the system—it’s a catch 22,” he said. “If you don’t vote, candidates don’t pay attention to you and if they don’t pay attention to you then you don’t vote.
“I always tell people if you want things to change, show up in primaries and vote because it changes the narrative. Hopefully BallotHero can help with education and ease of education.”