Website is like Netflix for voting

CAMBRIDGE, MA (RNN) - If voting were as convenient as Netflix, would more people do it?

That is the question three graduate students at the Harvard University Kennedy School for Politics wanted to answer. So they created the nonprofit organization Democracy Works and launched a website,

The website isn't used for online voting, but it does make it easier to register and vote from home.

"We want people to spend less time figuring out how to vote and more time figuring out who to vote for," said grad student and Democracy Works Executive Director Seth Flaxman.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, 63 percent of eligible Americans voted in the 2008 elections. TurboVote aims to boost this number by making the process more convenient.

After signing up through, users are mailed the appropriate prefilled absentee ballot request form and a prepaid envelope. Users also get email and text alerts to remind them of upcoming elections.

Flaxman said the idea for the site came when he had to change his voter's registration. He decided it would be easier to create TurboVote than to figure out the application process and buy the stamp needed to mail the application.

Flaxman said he and the nonprofit's co-founders, Kathryn Peters and Amanda Cassel-Kraft, are not trying to digitize the electoral process. The idea is to create freedom for voters by utilizing local governments' absentee ballot options that are already in place.

"I always vote better when I'm voting from home," Flaxman said. "It gives me the option to research everyone on the ballot. You can't bring Google into the voting booth."

Thirty states currently allow "no excuse absentee voting," while all others require the voter to submit a valid excuse for an absentee ballot.

A New York University professor of politics, Jonathan Nagler, said he is less concerned about potential fraud with absentee voting than he is about the voter missing out on an American tradition.

"You lose the shared civic experience (this way)," Nagler said.

TurboVote was jump-started by a mini-grant from the Sunlight Foundation. The site is still in a pilot stage. Democracy Now is seeking $25,000 in donations by Nov. 2 to launch TurboVote nationwide.

The site is just $2,800 shy of their goal.

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