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Upgrading Democracy: Voting Meets Tech


by Kevin Chu, Columbia

“Lord, let this election not be close.” So goes the Election Administrator’s Prayer, a phrase haunted by the United State’s electoral meltdown in 2000 and the basic fact that elections are hard, complex operations to run.

If elections are hard, voting hasn’t been easy either. The US Census Bureau estimates that 60% of non-voters missed Election Day in 2012 because of inconvenience and registration issues—not because of apathy.

This gap is where risk-wary government meets fast-moving tech: A crop of technology-enabled nonprofits are out to upgrade the infrastructure of democracy itself by making voting accessible and user-friendly. Here are just a few of them:



Sam Altman’s VotePlz is the latest in a string of efforts to create “the TurboTax of voter registration,” adding on to the likes of voter registration initiatives such as TurboVote,, and Rock the Vote.

  • Behind VotePlz’s tech royalty is a Silicon Valley sense of urgency: Y Combinator, Segment, Planet Labs, and Workflow—VotePlz’s four cofounders all hail from impressive startup and entrepreneurial backgrounds, and they’re all invested in bringing their skill sets to making voting as frictionless as possible.
  • VotePlz bashes out new features as if it were a venture-backed startup hungry for growth. Leaderboards and social pressure backed by $1,040,000 in sweepstakes prizes? Just startup growth hacking on steroids. Calling a subsidized Uber or Lyft ride to your polling place? That’s on the roadmap, too.
  • VotePlz is laser-focused on getting out the youth vote. The VotePlz team understands millennials’ love for emojis. The team also understands that it’s getting harder each year for millennials to vote: between analog hurdles such as mailing in registration forms or finding a ride to the polls, making voting as easy as possible has never been more relevant when it comes to millennials.




VoterVOX connects multilingual Asian Americans and Pacific Islander volunteers to voters in their communities with limited English proficiency. VoterVOX isn’t just a translation app:

  • VoterVOX taps into the authenticity of shared heritage and family stories. A warm introduction to how an election works is better than an unhelpful poll worker’s cold shoulder at the ballot box, and is a powerful step toward encouraging voter turnout.
  • Every voter on the platform receives a translated ballot and voter information, and the platform also assists voters in ordering mail-in absentee ballots and additional resources like issue guides. English-fluent or not, dealing with bureaucracy adds more stress on top of what any language barrier already would.
  • Volunteers’ efforts are combinatorial: translated materials and resources are uploaded to VoterVOX with each volunteer’s help; knowledge and resources are pooled together to make translation easier for everybody involved.

“Smart tech and good organizing” is what fuels, the non-profit behind VoterVOX founded in 2012 to promote Asian American/Pacific Islander civic engagement. VoterVOX is the latest example of how a self-described agile online advocacy organization can marry smart community organizing with creative, tech-enabled solutions.

Ballot Scout


Ballot Scout provides local election offices with the technology to track the large volume of absentee ballots that go through the mail. Absentee ballots whiz through the mail by the tens of thousands during election seasons, and millions of vote-by-mail ballots are cast each year nationwide. Yet, many are lost or delayed.

  • Ballot Scout addresses the civic catastrophe of ballots disappearing en masse: As many as 9 millionabsentee ballots in the 2012 election never made it to the voters who requested them, and 2.9 million ballots never made it back to election officials.
  • Ballots are tracked with the same ease and accountability as any FedEx package. Ballot Scout enables election officials to add USPS Intelligent Mail tracking, an unobtrusive data-rich, height-based 65-bar barcode, to ballots so they can be tracked anywhere in the mailstream.
  • The technology itself is inexpensive and customizable, and its accompanying JSON API is web and developer-friendly.

Democracy Works, the nonpartisan nonprofit behind Ballot Scout (as well as TurboVote), describes themselves in terms similar to that of 18MR: as the crossroads of developers, policy experts, and civic organizers dedicated to upgrading the voting experience.

A messy and oftentimes discriminatory election system isn’t an excuse to give up your political voice. Voter turnout and registration are no longer just in the realm of policy issues; they’re problems that demand solutions at the intersection of tech, community organizing, and creative thinking—all in service of continuing to make democracy work for all its citizens.



Running After the Torch and Other Opportunities

| Syracuse University Student Association |


by Tahirah Newkirk

Working on site at the Olympic Games is an opportunity that few communications students – let alone students in general – get the chance to take advantage of. Juwan Thompson, an entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises major here at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management and a public communications minor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, has a way of finding and earning highly competitive opportunities. Thompson was one of a select few students given the chance to intern in at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

Known for taking risks, Thompson has actively pursued challenging positions. As a freshman, Thompson applied for an internship at American Honda Motor Company that was listed for graduating seniors. Despite only being a freshman, Thompson read the position’s qualifications and felt that his prior experiences, including an executive board position on the board of education for Georgia’s third largest school district, gave him the necessary skills to succeed in that position. Sure enough, after a series of interviews, Thompson was extended an offer. In this position, he worked on a national advertising campaign and created a detailed post-launch survey among other responsibilities.

“I applied thinking that if I didn’t apply, I would never know if I was truly qualified for the job. Despite only being a freshman, I felt qualified for the position,” Thompson said.

According to Thompson, his Whitman classes have helped him explore the key components of entrepreneurial thinking, habits and actions. He has applied these concepts to his work as chief marketing officer of Consurtio, one of Whitman’s experiential learning ventures, an internship at the global media company Viacom, his role as chief of staff in the Student Association and many more places outside of the classroom.

“I have always thought that it’s not about what you’re taught, but how you apply it and why,” Thompson said.

Between his classroom and experiential learning, Thompson hopes to use his diverse experiences in entrepreneurship, film and production to eventually become a chief marketing officer for a global film production company.

This article first appeared in the Whitman Voices blog.



Infographic: The Rise of the Ridesharing Industry


by Guest Writer

Ridesharing apps have taken over the world by storm and Europe is no exception. It’s the innovative and fun model of the ridesharing apps, which contributed to its robust growth. Everybody seems to be excited about the idea of sharing a ride with a fellow community member and save the fuel costs.

Today, ridesharing apps like Uber are the top runner among the billion dollar unicorns but, its co-founders agree to the fact that the idea for Uber hit them while they were staying in Paris; not to mention Bla bla car was already operating there with a similar model. Hence, we can arguably ascertain that the ridesharing started in Europe.

However, Uber is credited with raising the bar and taking it to a level where billions of people are members of one or the other of the leading ridesharing service like Uber and Lyft, which has become a popular term in the contemporary culture.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was built pretty fast in the case of ridesharing industry. For instance, Uber started their operations back in 2009 and spread it to Europe in 2011. In no time, it became the fastest tech startup to the billion dollar club and now, it is operating in more than 68 Countries with a whopping $62.5 billion valuation!

The explosive growth of ridesharing is visually traced in this infographic:



Apple vs. the FBI: Everything You Should Know

apple fbi

by Kameron Butler                                                                          photo courtesy of Elena Scott @ Fusion

There has been an apparent buzz regarding Apple’s latest obstacle, especially since it concerns an arguably more formidable opponent than Apple has faced in the past – the FBI. With privacy concerns landing themselves among major discussion in current political policy talks, Apple’s current tussle has gained a lot of attention, and for good reason.


“This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.” – Tim Cook (CEO, Apple)


For those who are hearing of this for the first time, the breakdown is as follows:

The FBI has issued a court order for Apple to create a “backdoor” in its iOS to help investigators gain access to an iPhone related to the San Bernardino terrorist attack that occurred last December. Apple has publicly refused to comply with the order, in an effort to defend its customers privacy and security rights. To get you caught up on the issue, here is the public letter that Apple’s Tim Cook released to its customers regarding the matter: Apple Customer Letter.

Many respectable figures have weighed in on the issue. To hear Bill Gates’ opinion, check out this CNN article: CNN: Bill Gates on Apple FBI Encryption, and to hear Mark Zuckerberg’s response to the situation, read here: Zuckerberg on Apple vs FBI.

This issue has re-introduced the debate of digital security to the headlines, and many sources have attempted to gauge the public views regarding the debate. We invite you to read Forbes’ recap of these different polls, but be mindful that “not all polls are created equal” : What the Polls Are Saying. The results of this situation could play out in many ways, and all parties included may very well be affected in ways big and small. Once a final decision has been met, you can be sure that there will be plenty more to say.



Taking a Look at Trends: This Week’s Top 10


by CNECT Staff

This week’s collection of our staff’s favorite reads explore the current trends in business and entrepreneurship, offering valuable insights for those looking to get ahead of the latest and greatest. Check them out below!


Find Out What’s Happening in London’s Startup World

Forbes – 16 London Based Startups Ready to Take on 2016



What’s New with Bitcoins: Fighting for Survival?

Techcrunch – Is Bitcoins Promise Going up in Smoke?



See Just How Much Technology Affecting the Workplace

CNN – Job Losses Technology Five Million



These Days We Don’t Shop on Our Feet, We Shop With Our Fingers

Techcrunch – Smartphone Driven Holiday Sales Nearly Doubled in 2015



It’s the “Everyday Innovation”

Forbes – How micro-Innovations can Drive Breakaway Results



See How Money and Credit is Going Digital

Techcrunch – On the Future of Money and Credit



Take a Sneak Peak into the Future of Travel Tech Introduced in CES 2016, a Mammoth Technology Trade Show in Las Vegas

CNN – Is this the future of Travel?



The Cyborg Future: What Does it Entail?

CNN – Cyborg Neil Harbisson Implant Antenna



The Push of  Virtual/Augmented Reality

Techcrunch – Investments in Virtual/Augmented Reality Hit Nearly 700m



Let’s Reflect: Hottest Startups of 2015

Forbes – Hottest Startups