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Technology

This New Site May Finally Make The Smartphone A Must-Have Tool For Voting

With Change Politics, civic action platform Change.org brings your friends' recommendations to your ballot.

Buying books, records, and other products based on the recommendations of people in your social circle has long been standard. Now, the online petition service Change.org wants to adopt that approach to how you vote and pick your favored political candidates.

They just launched a new mobile-friendly site, called Change Politics, that provides users with a nicely designed version of their local ballot, and also adds endorsements from friends, media figures, and advocacy groups. It also allows users to ask questions of the candidates directly, says Change.org.

Change Politics helps voters "engage directly with the candidates in the lead-up to the election, and shift influence in elections from parties and paid ads, to individuals’ trusted personal networks," according to the group's blog.

Call it "social voting" or whatever you want, but the idea makes sense. Many voters go into the voting booth with almost no real knowledge about the majority of candidates or policy initiatives. On many, they may recognize a familiar last name, or remember an attack ad they saw.

With all the endorsements and background information users collect at Change Politics, they can build a personal "ballot guide" that they can take with them into the voting booth on a smartphone.

More informed votes has to be a good thing—with the caveat that voters don't just go along with what their friends or favorite media figures are doing. Hopefully voters will weigh influencers based on their arguments for voting one way or another.

Change.org founder and CEO Ben Rattray says Change Politics has a chance of reengineering politics in the way that apps, like Uber, have revolutionized other industries.

"Technology has transformed power in a number of industries like media and communications, but it hasn't transformed politics in the same way, and that's both a tragedy and an opportunity," Rattray told Fast Company. Really disruptive companies haven't merely provided websites for old-guard companies in a space; he says, they've built apps that put the power in the hands of the individual customer.

That's what the new mobile site will do. It'll also improve the overall experience of voting.

"If you were a company that sold the public the experience of voting you would have gone out of business long ago," Rattray says. The smartphone, Rattray says, is the most powerful and transformative invention of the past 100 years, and the Change Politics site will leverage it to empower voters and reinvent the political process.

Rattray points out that the main use of information in technology by political campaigns so far has been to target advertisements at narrowly defined voter segments, not to help voters make reasoned decisions.

He points out that a voter empowered with better information might make smarter choices. The democratic process itself could work better.

"The only reason money matters in politics is because you have low-information voters," he says. And those voters are more likely to respond to attack ads they see or hear.

"If people's attention is increasing drawn to the people and organizations they most trust then it's that trust that becomes more valuable than money in politics," Rattray concludes.

Other political sites have attempted to reinvent voting and have had limited success. But Change.org may be different. Rattray says 35 million people have already used the main Change.org petition site. That's enough people to catch the eye of any national political candidate.

In fact the campaigns of many of the 2016 presidential election candidates have already signed on to interact with voters at the new Change Politics site. These include Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, and Jeb Bush on the GOP side, and all three candidates in the Democratic primary—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley.

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