Several years ago, senior Daniel Van Schooten ’15 was faced with a problem. It was his first time voting, and as a political science major, he had carefully researched each candidate. When he reached the polls, however, he realized that his research had only covered roughly one third of the races for office. The result of his frustration was the conception of a website and application, ElectionPrep, that would inform voters on election candidates.
Van Schooten said former speaker of the House of Representatives and former Wheaton graduate Dennis Hastert commented that, “ElectionPrep takes a clear step toward educating a new generation of voters. The integrity of our democracy relies on educated voters.”
According to Van Schooten, “It is these local, county and state elections that often have the greatest impact in people’s day-to-day lives. This issue can be seen all across the United States, where local elections receive abysmally low turnout rates. This has resulted in mayors who are often elected by only 5-10 percent of the residents of the cities they represent.” He added that while almost 50 percent of registered voters vote for the president, only around 15 percent of voters around the nation elect the local government.
The solution he and junior Robert Trca have envisioned is ElectionPrep, what Van Schooten described as, “a project that will help people make informed voting decisions in local elections.”
“This was born out of my own frustration of turning up to the polling stations and being surprised by races and candidates that I knew nothing about, despite having attempted to do my research beforehand,” said Van Schooten.
Under the current system, he emphasized that “People don’t vote for people, they vote for parties which means that … politicians become responsible to parties and not to the people.”
The website is structured to provide information about local candidates that are not as well known. After finishing preliminary construction and design for the website last week, the students behind ElectionPrep began the process of contacting 17 local governments to request information. Eventually they plan to contact political candidates themselves. In an effort to provide a relatively unbiased service, ElectionPrep aims to have each of the candidates supply their own information and have the opportunity to speak for themselves.
According to the website, “This eliminates any chance of our misrepresenting a candidate, and ensures that each candidate is given a level playing field.”
Additionally, Van Schooten explained that many of the local and county candidates do not even have campaign websites. They insert ads in newspapers and attend town hall meetings. Since many young voters do not attend these meetings or read local newspapers, they lack relevant information.
Van Schooten hopes that “In the next two months, ElectionPrep will connect local, county and state representatives who often lack the finances to do more than put signs in people’s yards (and) voters, who often lack the time and energy to do their research.”
After this is completed, the site’s creators aim to promote the application in time for DuPage County’s upcoming April election, and service the county as a pilot for the project.
Van Schooten said, “Should this election go well, we plan to expand to cover all of the Chicago area next year, providing information on local candidates when most of the coverage is on the federal races.”
The goal is that, “By then, it would be a fairly automated process, with candidates able to create and manage the content of their own profiles, freeing us from having to try to manage profiles for the hundreds of candidates that would be running.”
Potential facets of the site include, according to Van Schooten, “easily accessible profiles of the candidates for each of the positions.” He said that he hopes the profiles will have a uniform format similar to Wikipedia for the purpose of easy navigation.
Additionally, ElectionPrep will contain information about the positions including term lengths, job descriptions, and if applicable, salaries.
Advantages of a prospective app would be “to notify and remind visitors of upcoming local and state elections,” and maybe also upcoming events such as town hall meetings, according to Van Schooten. Also a possibility is a Question and Answer section, where users can submit their questions to candidates for a response.
Because the website also operates as a campaigning tool for candidates, they would be charged a small fee to have their profile posted, which would go toward making ElectionPrep become an effective reality. However there is still a great amount of money needed to attain the goal of reaching 25 percent of registered voters with the site. ElectionPrep could also benefit from an intern who would gain experience in web design in return for helping maintain the website. Daniel Van Schooten can be contacted for information regarding the position.
ElectionPrep is currently up and can be reached at electionprep.org