Voting? There’s an app for that

BallotReady and GoVoteTN help students prepare to vote

Seniors Robert Grissom and Mimi McCarroll, new voters, prepare for the upcoming election by using GoVote Tennessee. Studies have shown that many voters feel they do not know enough to make an informed choice on election day.

Photo: Faith Huff

Seniors Robert Grissom and Mimi McCarroll, new voters, prepare for the upcoming election by using GoVote Tennessee. Studies have shown that many voters feel they do not know enough to make an informed choice on election day.

You walk into your polling location and head over to the voting machine thinking that you are just voting between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. You then scroll down and see names with positions you have never heard of. What in the world is an alderman?

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, six in 10 intermittent voters said that they know little information about candidates. Regular voters also felt less informed.

Because of this, voters, intermittent or regular, may skip over candidates, guess, choose by party or simply not vote at all.

However, during a recent visit to St. George’s, alumna Sophie Kennedy shared a possible solution, BallotReady.

Ms. Kennedy now spends her days in Chicago working for BallotReady, a company that, according to its website, provides free, nonpartisan background information on each candidate and referendum on a voter’s ballot, ensuring that the voter is informed and prepared to vote.

Ms. Kennedy spoke with St. George’s students in upper school government and newspaper classes about the website and how knowing candidates and their policies before voting for them is of utmost importance, given her own experience in campaign work.

“I worked for a candidate who I was really supportive of and really excited about, but one of the challenges that we consistently faced, and the reason we lost, was because there was not enough people that knew her name and not enough people that knew where she stood on issues,” Ms. Kennedy said. “So the choice that they made was based on name recognition and not based on where this person stood in relation to [their] beliefs and values.”

Ms. Kennedy also recommended that students who are voting should look into the GoVoteTN app, which provides more extensive information about Tennessee voting.

According to the GoVoteTN website, the app allows Tennesseans to view their sample ballot, search for polling locations and learn more about their district.

Knowing the candidates and their policies before voting is nothing new for government teacher Ms. Emily Gunther. Ms. Gunther relied on local sources for the smaller elections in her area, and she, like Ms. Kennedy, believed that local elections should not go unnoticed.

“As controversial as this presidential election is, what really matters is going to be senators who can pass bills and the people in the local levels who actually do interact with you, your city and your county on a day-to-day basis,” Ms. Gunther said. “A state senator isn’t going to necessarily know every part of their constituencies, but a local representative will know more specific residential issues that affect your day-to-day life a lot more than presidential decisions that affect the future of the country and moving forward on those terms.”

Students in Ms. Gunther’s classes have discussed the election and voting in depth, covering topics that include demographics, election analysis, lobbying, polling and interest groups.

Sidney Martin, junior and AP United States Politics and Government student, learned from both his class and Ms. Kennedy that voting can make a difference and that all political ideas are necessary.

“I learned that it’s good to vote because you can make a very good difference in our election,” Martin said. “We live in a representative government, where we the people are represented by representatives, so we need to tell our representatives what we think. If we don’t do that, we won’t be heard as a people.”

Senior Brook Goodman is finally eligible to vote, and she feels like she has stayed somewhat informed about the election. Goodman has been watching debates and feels like the opinions of young people matter just as much as those of adults when it concerns voting.

“I watched both of the debates, so I’m a little familiar with each person and their sides. In government, we’ve been talking about how people our age tend to not vote because some may tell them that they don’t have to or that we don’t know a lot about it,” Goodman said. “But the younger and older population have different perspectives on things, so it’s important to have both of those opinions.”

Ms. Kennedy believes voting is critical for political representation, yet actually knowing who you are voting for and what that candidate stands for can ultimately make a difference in the voting habits of many Americans today. The BallotReady website and GoVoteTN app may help.

“People who are politicians and run for campaigns are signing up to run your community, so you deserve to know who those people are, where they stand on things and what they’re going to do about problems that are in your community,” Ms. Kennedy said. “Voting is one of the simplest and most direct ways we have of producing meaningful change. If more of us vote informed, we can make our democracy work the way it should.”