On Wednesday, December 17, at 6:30 pm, the second Jumpstart Davis meetup will be hosted by Sophia’s Thai Kitchen. It will feature Bob Fung of Voterprep.org and Kyle Cobb of Greenbotics. The Vanguard will be profiling both, starting with Bob Fung.
Voterprep “is a web application that helps voters quickly make informed voting decisions. At its core, Voterprep is an online candidates forum where candidates present their viewpoints about important issues to their election. In order to make Voterprep accessible, we put it on the web, where it can be accessed anytime with a computer, smart phone, or tablet. Voterprep is free to use. Once users have signed up for an account they can get involved by creating viewpoints, adding comments, and following the issues, elections, and candidates that matter most to them.”
It is non-partisan – not favoring one candidate or political party over any other.
“It represents the viewpoint of the candidates on important election issues as well as the information on the candidate themselves,” Bob Fung, the founder, told the Vanguard.
Mr. Fung explained that he was motivated about a year ago to create this platform by the “big picture of how society is going.” Society is made up of two parts – the public sector and the private sector. He said, “The private sector is doing great, through things like the recent Supreme Court Decision (Citizens United) the private sector has more influence on the public sector than it’s had.”
The public sector, on the other hand, “isn’t doing so well. People generally aren’t civically engaged. So to improve the health of society altogether we thought that we should improve the health of the public sector.”
“We chose something that was very simple – a very straight-forward simple idea to help voters, vote better,” he said.
He said when he began work on this, he thought this was just some idea that he had. However, when he showed it to Larry Diamond, a prominent Stanford Political Science professor who specializes in understanding how democracies work, Mr. Fung said that Professor Diamond looked at his model and said, “okay that should work.”
On Mr. Fung’s website, he has a quote from Professor Diamond, Director of Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law and author of The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World, who said, “The internet and mobile devices have the potential to greatly improve democratic processes in the US and around the world. By connecting voters directly with candidates on important issues through a nonpartisan platform, Voterprep could play a significant role in realizing this potential in the 21st century.”
So how does Voterprep work? From the user’s perspective, they go to the website, find an election that they are interested in, and they can watch the viewpoints of the candidates that they are interested in.
There are two ways to do that. The simplest does not require any sort of log in, they simply interact with the site. There is a more sophisticated interaction where they log in and that enables them to take notes, sign up for elections, and make comments.
From the candidates’ perspective – they sign up with the moderator and they are then allowed to present their viewpoints. Ideally, Bob Fung said, “What we would like to put forward is for the candidate to author the viewpoint themselves either in video or in text and to place it there themselves. We are able to with the consent of the candidate, take their viewpoints from publicly available material.”
For example, when the Vanguard asks a candidate a question and publishes the answer, Voterprep, can use that response with the consent of the publisher and the candidate.
Eventually Bob Fung wants to make this platform universally available. He said, “Eventually we want to present this to candidates worldwide. We’ve been focusing on Davis since I live here, we would like have the website sort of be in general use.”
For the next year, “We will be looking for elections wherever. It’s a website, so people can use this in Canada just as well as they can use it in Davis.”
Mr. Fung said that, while they haven’t had a lot of use, the “candidates have given us positive feedback.” Robb Davis, for example, used the system and had positive feedback.
On his site, he has a quote from former Davis Mayor Ann Evans who stated, “After seeing a demonstration of Voterprep, I feel it could be an important innovation in local elections and deserves our support in Davis.”
High school teacher Eric Morgan added, “What I love about Voterprep is the ease with which its users can navigate the various platforms of their candidates, making complex voting decisions simplified and accessible. It helps illustrate what makes candidates different so that its users can effectively evaluate their choices.”
You can learn more about Voterprep and other startups on Wednesday, December 17 at 6:30 pm at Sophia’s in Davis.
—David M. Greenwald reporting