NetFlix-for-Voting Startup Tries to Make Democracy Easy

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If voting were easier, more people would do it. That's the simple idea behind TurboVote, a new non-profit its founders call a Netflix for voting.

The site simplifies voting by mail. You go to their website, sign up, and they send you the proper forms with a properly addressed, stamped envelope. Then, when elections come up, they send you text and email reminders, so that you don't forget to vote in the scads of local elections.

"The reason why I'm really behind it is that I think it's the first step towards what a modern democracy should look like," said the site's co-founder Seth Flaxman, a master's student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. "Let's just say your ballot came in the mail automatically -- and you could sit down when it was convenient for you to look at your ballot at your kitchen table with your laptop open."

Turbovote launched a prototype in conjunction with Boston University this fall, and they're raising money through Kickstarter, the micropatronage site, to take the system national.

Right now, it costs Turbovote $1.93 to send you all the necessary materials. Though they expect the costs to come down as they streamline and fine tune the process, it's tough to get people to pull out a credit card to pay a dollar or two. In the near term, though, Flaxman said that they anticipate most of their adopters will come within institutions like Boston University or churches or civic groups that will cover the costs for their members.

They need a little more than $5,000 more backing on Kickstarter to reach their goal of $25,000.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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