Mitch Downey and Vincent Schramer aren’t running for political office, but they want your vote nonetheless – and your help.
The NIU students could be on the verge of something big as they prepare to launch new a “civic engagement social network,” known as EveryVote.org.
The EveryVote network aims to connect the politically disconnected. It will provide a wealth of information on government legislation, on federal, state and local elections and even on campaign financing.
Visitors to the website will be able to create their own profiles, weigh in with their personal views and track the views of others – including politicians, candidates, trusted experts, interest groups and other site users.
“You’ll be able to compare how your votes and views correlate to others,” says Downey, a 27-year-old graduate student from Oak Lawn who is studying instructional technology. “We have big ambitions, and the more people who participate, the stronger the social network will be.”
Downey and Schramer are more pumped than ever after attending Transparency Camp, an event held this past April in Arlington, Va., that brought together advocates of the open government movement from across the world.
The NIU students say EveryVote will be a nonprofit “open source” website, meaning its source code could be shared. Computerized data on bills at the federal level is readily available. But a small army of volunteers is needed to gather information and build EveryVote.
“We need volunteers to help design, code, promote the site and conduct outreach,” Downey says. “We’re hoping to find computer science volunteers from NIU and other college campuses, especially in Illinois. It’s possible they could earn independent study credits for their work.”
“We could use help from students in political science, too,” Schramer adds. “We’re really open to any students who have a passion for this type of work or for politics. They don’t have to be experts in their fields; they just need to have a willingness to learn.”
Downey originally hatched the idea for EveryVote. He wanted to create an objective tool that would help him and others easily navigate the daunting political landscape.
“Given global and economic issues, we need collective thinking as opposed to apathy,” Downey says. “I get frustrated with the politicized information. This would be an objective tool to help people keep track of the facts.”
He believes EveryVote will be unique.
“No other site currently brings together all of this – the views of government officials, users and groups, along with timely voting information,” Downey says. “The site will even be designed to help those interested in running for office.”
When Downey first put out a call for volunteers earlier this year, Schramer, a senior computer science major from Aurora, got right on board. Not one to shy away from a challenge, he is leading the computer coding effort.
“I’m not as versed in politics as I’d like to be, so I would love to use this kind of tool,” Schramer says. He is striving to develop versatile computer code that could be used in other applications and add a gaming dimension to the site to make EveryVote fun and compelling for users.
“It’s not an easy task to design a versatile system, but I like puzzles,” Schramer says. “It all boils down to representing different kinds of people and groups in a computer system and then visualizing them in a useful way.”
With help from more volunteers, Downey and Schramer say they could launch the first phase of the site, which would include data on federal elections, prior to the November presidential election. As EveryVote grows, its usefulness will extend well beyond high-profile elections and could even be used in classrooms as an experiential-learning tool.
“Since any user will be able to add their own organization to the site, students could use EveryVote to manage the legislative and electoral proceedings of their student council or classroom government,” Downey says.
“So whether at micro-local or national levels,” he adds, “we hope EveryVote will better inform users and ignite people’s civic passions.”
Anyone interested in helping to build EveryVote can contact Downey and Schramer at [email protected].