Austin-Grown Voting App Looks to Test Here and Expand Nationally

Oct 22, 2014

Joe Santori was never a particularly political guy. He designed videogames.

The most he worried about fair representation or mapping data was whether or not the Green Lantern Corps was properly represented or if a map would clutter users’ screens in “DC Universe Online,” a massively multiplayer online role-playing game he worked on in 2011.

But in 2012, Santori got a gig working on the Texas Secretary of State’s Vote Texas app. It was, he says, remarkably similar: data for multiple parties had to be readily available on a screen, like in MMORPGs, and that data had to be specific to where that user was.

Santori decided that kind of data would be useful to Austin voters, and he set out on his own project: The Voting App.

Today, Santori’s firm ThinkVoting debuted The Voting App, a resource to view mock ballots, the League of Women Voters’ voting guide and candidate information across all of Austin’s 10 new geographic districts.

The developers at ThinkVoting started their beta test in Austin because of the implications this Election Day.

With the new geographic districts, the race for governor and several bond propositions, Santori says it’s not easy for voters to stay on top of all of it before heading to the polls.

But while ThinkVoting is aimed at “empowering” voters through instant candidate and ballot information, he knows it’s hard to get Texans to the polls. Santori says The Voting App isn’t looking to be the silver bullet to end turnout woes.

“If we don’t increase the numbers, that’s fine, as long as the people who are making the decisions are actually making more qualified decisions,” he says. “Because there’s just no way that all the people who are voting now can know everyone on the ballot.”

While the app provides voters which issues candidates are prioritizing, their relevant experience and any links to campaign media, it doesn’t provide financial data for candidates running for city and county offices or for first-time candidates.

Santori says the City of Austin has provided all the data they need, but, in order to update financial records, ThinkVoting would have to go through hundreds of handwritten documents that have been scanned as PDF files. They hope to talk to the city in coming elections about digitizing some of that data in a more usable format.

The goal is to use Austin as a proving ground for the app. Santori says the road to the beta testing hasn't been long – ThinkVoting secured $100,000 in funding in mid-August for the project and began development shortly after. But, there have been plenty of logistical loopholes – the app was set to go live three weeks ago, which was delayed to last week, which was again delayed until today.

All that, Santori says, has helped prepare ThinkVoting for its ultimate goal of launching the app nationally in time for the 2016 elections.

Early voting is underway through Oct. 31 and Election Day is Nov. 4.

You can download The Voting App for free on iTunes now and it will be available on Google Play sometime this week.