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Alex Niemczewski and Aviva Rosman  Photo by Lisa Predko

The Voting Decoders

BallotReady

The idea:A website that makes it easy to research candidates and issues that will appear on your ballot

The aha moment:Alex Niemczewski, a Chicago design consultant, didn’t want to make any bad guesses when voting in the 2014 midterm election. But getting informed proved daunting: “I just remember researching one judicial race,” says Niemczewski, 30, “and when I looked up, four hours had gone by.”

Since then:Niemczewski discussed her frustrations with Aviva Rosman, a college friend. Seemingly everyone they spoke to confessed to casting at least a few random votes. Wanting to demystify the process, the pair recruited friend Sebastian Ellefson and launched BallotReady, which won the New Venture Challenge at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in 2015. It now covers every race in elections nationwide, down to library boards. It works like this: After typing in your address, you get a mock ballot that includes all the issues and candidates you’ll see on Election Day. Click on a race and you can dig deeper into endorsements and stances, even comparing multiple candidates at once. (The site is free for users; the company makes money from civic and advocacy groups that commission custom voter guides and pay for BallotReady’s database of issues and candidates.) BallotReady has now attracted more than $2 million in investments and had 1.1 million visits in 2016, the year of the last general election. That’s good news for civic participation: It turns out informed citizens are also more engaged. “We did a study with MIT,” Niemczewski says. “It showed, when controlling for demographics and voting history, BallotReady users were 20 percent more likely to turn up for a vote.”

The idea:A website that makes it easy to research candidates and issues that will appear on your ballot

The aha moment:Alex Niemczewski, a Chicago design consultant, didn’t want to make any bad guesses when voting in the 2014 midterm election. But getting informed proved daunting: “I just remember researching one judicial race,” says Niemczewski, 30, “and when I looked up, four hours had gone by.”

Since then:Niemczewski discussed her frustrations with Aviva Rosman, a college friend. Seemingly everyone they spoke to confessed to casting at least a few random votes. Wanting to demystify the process, the pair recruited friend Sebastian Ellefson and launched BallotReady, which won the New Venture Challenge at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in 2015. It now covers every race in elections nationwide, down to library boards. It works like this: After typing in your address, you get a mock ballot that includes all the issues and candidates you’ll see on Election Day. Click on a race and you can dig deeper into endorsements and stances, even comparing multiple candidates at once. (The site is free for users; the company makes money from civic and advocacy groups that commission custom voter guides and pay for BallotReady’s database of issues and candidates.) BallotReady has now attracted more than $2 million in investments and had 1.1 million visits in 2016, the year of the last general election. That’s good news for civic participation: It turns out informed citizens are also more engaged. “We did a study with MIT,” Niemczewski says. “It showed, when controlling for demographics and voting history, BallotReady users were 20 percent more likely to turn up for a vote.”

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