TurboVote: Voting Made Easy

The drive for college students to participate in this year’s election has produced a fair share of initiatives aimed at mobilizing young eligible voters. From organizations like Rock The Vote to grassroots movements on college campuses, a plethora of campaigns exist aimed at getting young people to cast a ballot.

And that’s where TurboVote comes in.

Inspired by their own voting experiences, TurboVote founders Seth Flaxman and Kathryn Peters were determined to eliminate the logistical obstacles that discourage citizens from voting. After a successful pilot session and early financial support from Kickstarter, the result was TurboVote, an up-and-coming startup set on getting more voters to the polls.

“When you think about it, today we can do virtually anything we want to do extremely easily, mostly because of the Internet,” Flaxman says. “We can shop online, connect to everyone online, and do so much because everything has just become much more accessible.”

“But somehow, that accessibility still doesn’t apply to our interactions with government procedures. Many of those are still done through mail, phone, and other ways that can get very, very complicated. So we’re trying to bridge that gap and make democracy more accessible.”

It’s a process that has led Flaxman to dub TurboVote the “Netflix of voting,” a metaphor used to describe the ease with which voters can get registered and track elections.

By visiting TurboVote’s website, users can fill out a voter registration form online that they later receive in the mail, courtesy of TurboVote. But unlike other online voter registration sites TurboVote not only mails voters their filled out forms, it also includes an envelope pre-addressed to their local election board, meaning that a trip to the nearest mailbox is the only requirement.

Besides easing the voter registration process, TurboVote’s users can also take advantage of a text message service reminding them of upcoming local, state, and federal elections plus their registration deadlines. So instead of having to manually keep track of every election, users can take advantage of the TurboVote service to be aware of and participate in politics.

Getting more users, however, does require a bit of outreach, especially where recruiting young voters is concerned. Recognizing that they needed to reach out to college students, the TurboVote team began forming partnerships with universities and colleges all around the country, an initiative that began at Harvard, where Flaxman and Peters both completed their graduate studies.

By August 1st this year, TurboVote had established partnerships with 25 colleges. Now, the number has jumped to 51 as student leaders and administrators are finding ways to encourage students to vote.

“When we partner with a college, we don’t try to take over their own strategies to gather student voters,” explains Flaxman. “TurboVote is a tool that student government and college board members use to connect with students about why it’s important to vote.”

“Sometimes we approach a college, sometimes someone from a college approaches us. In the end, we’re not an organization trying to take over voter registration on campuses, but we make ourselves available as a resource for leaders to use.”

As more and more colleges connect with TurboVote, the partnerships seem to be paying off. Up to half of the student body at smaller colleges has registered with TurboVote, and numbers at bigger colleges are rising as well. The startup’s growing popularity among college students has motivated the TurboVote team to keep developing its partnerships with colleges.

“For many colleges, this involves starting what we like to call a ‘Hundred Percent Plan’” says Flaxman. “We’re aiming to get all college students voting in elections, so we’d like to start talking to colleges about how to make it so that 100% of their student body is voting.”

But aside from college campuses and companies like Google, the TurboVote team has their sights set on connecting with the government itself. Talks are underway to form partnerships with local governments in a bid to boost voter turnout numbers, which Flaxman believes is necessary for democracy to work.

“We all know that the government is supposed to help all of us, but in reality the government only serves the people who vote,” says Flaxman. “You need to show the government what you want, and the most direct way to do that is to vote.”

“Whether you’re a student or an adult, you need to take ownership of your right to vote. And that’s what [TurboVote] helps you do: we help you take ownership of your vote.”
Still need to register for this year's election? Visit TurboVote, sign up, and receive your completed form in the mail!