OMAHA—Jim Esch thought an email he received from a 93-year-old woman yesterday was fake.
The former political candidate and founder of Ballot Hero, a new voter education site, thought that because it was so overly nice.
Surely it was a friend playing a prank.
“She said she’d been voting since she was 18 and this was the first time in 75 years that she knew about everything on her ballot,” he said. “That was by far the coolest feedback I got.”
Ballot Hero checks your voter registration, finds your polling place and tells you what offices are up for election and who’s 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.
By Tuesday’s election, thousands of Nebraskans used Ballot Hero to find their exact ballot and learn about candidates running for offices from the Senate to the Omaha Public Power District board. Esch said user feedback has been largely positive and the time on site was way above average.
He jokes that he may have got 1 percent of turnout to use the site.
“We tried to do a lot in a short amount of time,” he said. “I would’ve started a lot earlier if I had a do over.”
The heaviest traffic came in the two days before Nov. 4. It was the first go for Ballot Hero, and won’t be the last, Esch said.
But there’s still a lot to figure out, like revenue stream (or not), how to improve the user experience, continue to build voter trust, but also explore what anonymous aggregate data could be useful to campaigns.
He also hopes to scale it to other cities and states. The test run was only in Nebraska.
The process is fairly straightforward with three bullet points and demographic info from candidates—only a handful of candidates didn’t have information. It takes about 45 minutes to thoroughly go through each ballot item. Judge retention items had an informational rating from the Bar Association and lawyer evals.
Esch told SPN in October that he considers himself a pretty educated voter, but would go into the voting booth and have trouble knowing the races and who the candidates are.
“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.”
Although the next major election is two years off, Esch said he thinks he’ll aim to hit the Lincoln mayor’s race next May as well as mayoral races in about 50 other large cities as well as statewide elections in Virginia, Louisiana and Georgia.
He’s also looking at partnerships with other political nonprofits to make candidate info easier to collect.
“The biggest thing with all startups is trying to grow and make it manageable while not hurting yourself by biting off more than you can chew,” Esch said.