An interview with Victor Allis, CEO and Co-Founder, ActiVote & Nimit Sawhney, CEO and Co-Founder of Voatz.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure brings to mind high-tech buildings, artificial intelligence, and efficient public transportation systems…not new ways of engaging with politics. Thankfully, some people do see opportunities to innovate and break through the web of bureaucracy that entangles the U.S. political process…and this month’s local leaders are working to do just that.
Victor Allis, CEO and Co-Founder of ActiVote and former Hubber, shares how ActiVote helps people easily understand where they fall on the political spectrum, and follow-through by reminding them to vote. Nimit Sawhney, CEO of Co-Founder of Voatz and member of CIC, and his company then help us take on the next step: building a technology that allows people to securely cast mobile votes. Read on to learn about how both of these tools can help our country increase participation in the upcoming elections.
In your own words, can you explain Voatz’s value proposition for society?
Nimit: “At Voatz, making voting accessible for everyone drives everything we do. We care deeply about those who cannot — or those who are challenged — to vote in person or on paper, specifically our deployed military service people, overseas citizens, and voters with disabilities. The current methods offered to these groups (postal mail, fax, email) are challenging to access, unsecure, violate privacy rights, and actively shut out citizens from participating.”
“Only 7% of 3 million overseas citizens vote. Studies show this rate would increase to 37% if logistical barriers were removed.”
“Voatz is the only platform designed to meet the four key criteria that elections look for in successful mobile voting: security, confirming voter identity, accessibility, and ability to audit. Each mobile vote produces a tabulatable paper ballot. At every step, we balance security and accessibility so that a voter is certain their vote is counted, and so election officials can ensure their voters in the military and overseas, and those with disabilities, have access.”
“In 2018, Voatz partnered with West Virginia to allow overseas citizens and deployed military to vote using its system, marking the first mobile votes in US federal election history. Voatz has run 67 elections for towns, cities, both major political parties, universities, and nonprofits, including 11 governmental pilots across five U.S. states and 29 counties. Our elections continue to receive high satisfaction rates from voters and are supported by a thorough post-election audit that confirms the integrity of the votes.”
“For those who fight in service of this country’s freedom, all of us—lawmakers and industry professionals alike—should be doing all we can to make voting accessible and secure for these voters. Voatz was designed with this in mind and believes the technology exists today to secure these rights.”
What made you start ActiVote?
Victor: “After I retired I did not want to sit still, I wanted to help address the increasing polarization of politics. I started out by serving as a full-time Congressional campaign volunteer, and was Senior Political Advisor and Field Director to a Latina candidate. We canvassed primarily in Hispanic communities and I began to see how difficult it was for people to think about politics when they had so much going on day-to-day. I wanted to help make it easier for them to participate in our democracy.”
“Thus, in January 2019, I co-founded ActiVote (a C-Corp) with my colleagues Sara Gifford and Paul-Erik Raué. We created ActiVote to be a non-partisan tool for every U.S. voter to find out when to vote, how to vote, and who you can vote for. The ActiVote app is designed to be easy to understand and engage with, making people feel more involved in democracy. We have quickly gotten tens of thousands of users since we launched, and we plan to hit a million soon.”
“We hope to do this by continuing to create a safe space for people to explore their political beliefs without being inundated by the opinions of others. For example, after answering a series of questions, users can see how their beliefs compare to those of their local candidates and representatives.”
“The ActiVote app also reminds people to vote–especially in elections for the state senate, the city councilor, the school board, and all other local elections that are so important, but often overlooked. Currently, there are 200 million voters in the U.S. that could cast up to 1.8 billion votes in a 4 year political cycle. However, only 450 million votes actually get cast. Our goal is to remind people to vote more often, so the app sends them a notification 7 days before each election they can vote in.”
Which SDG 9 targets does your organization directly work toward?
- 9.1 Develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and transborder infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all.
- 9.C Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.
What is your second-favorite SDG and why?
Nimit: “We feel a duty to be a clear resource during these times. Mobile voting holds the best promise to improve accessibility, security, and resilience for overseas military voters, overseas citizens, and people with disabilities. To even begin to build a resilient system, we believe in committed investment in research, development, and deep study of options available to us. That’s why our second favorite SDG is actually a different target within SDG 9 — Target 9.5 — that focuses on research and development.”
Victor: “Avoiding homelessness is something I have been very involved in, thus I would say SDG 1: No Poverty. Having a home is the basis for everything else. We work to let people stay in the house that they live in, or get into a house.”
Any calls to action? How can our readers make your work more impactful?
Nimit: “Every state allows deployed military personnel and U.S. citizens living overseas to vote through absentee ballots. Talk to your election officials to expand these options to include mobile voting. If you live outside the U.S,, contact election officials in your jurisdiction. Sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Twitter to stay updated on the latest developments in voter access. We issue a call to action every week.”
Victor: “Download the ActiVote app and tell your friends about it. You may say, ‘Oh I’m a regular voter’, but you still know lots of people that do not vote regularly. You can be ambassadors for civic education and show people the benefit of this unbiased, free app that tells you when to vote and gives people key information to make up their own minds.”