Three Startups Defending Democracy In America: Votizen, Memeorandum, and NationBuilder

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The USA was founded by entrepreneurs who said “England has become bloated with bureaucracy. Let’s disrupt it by starting our own agile, more innovative nation.” But on the country’s 236th birthday, we find some democracy’s machinery needs a tune up. Political news, campaigns, and voting itself require an update for the 21st century.

Considering our roots, its only fitting that entrepreneurs would be the ones to rise to the occasion and use technology to make this great nation greater. Here a look at five bold startups putting the power of democracy back in the hands of the ordinary person.

Votizen

Democracy doesn’t work if you don’t vote, so Votizen helps make sure your friends do. Log in with your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn accounts and you’ll see who in your network is registered to vote. Pick an election and the candidate you support, and Votizen gives you a list of friends who support that party and are eligible to vote in the race. That way you can remind them to cast theirs or band together to campaign for who you want to win.

Co-founder Jason Putorti tells me Votizen’s goal is “to make ordinary voters more powerful. Right now, people with the big checkbooks get the access, but money is just a proxy. If ordinary people can get their friends to turn out to vote, candidates are going to court them in the future.”

It’s working. Votizen has identified 1.3 million registered voters to their friends, and has been shown to actually get people to the polls on election day. In fact, United States Senator Barbara Lee of Oakland, California will take a meeting with whoever gets her the most pledged votes on Votizen.

Memeorandum

To vote intelligently, you need to understand the issues of the day. Exhausted from information overload, though, it’s tough to dig deep and get a balanced perspective across party lines. But Memorandum makes it easy. This political news aggregator collects the must-read news from across hundreds of outlets on “one easy-to-scan page” that automatically refreshes every five minutes. If you’re more of a techie than a politico, you might know Memeorandum’s sister site and the first thing I read in the morning, Techmeme.

Gabe Rivera, founder of Memeorandum, explains “I think it helps democracy in that it pulls readers out of their comfort zones. While lefties tend to read lefty blogs, and right wingers stick to their corner of the web, both types of readers seem to make an exception for Memeorandum, exposing themselves to views divergent from their own.”

While other political news sites might need an army of editors to stay so up-to-date, Memeorandum is sorted entirely algorithmically. Thanks to the cold, hard wisdom of computers, Memeorandum stays unbiased so you can make up your own mind.

NationBuilder

So you’ve read the news and voted but you’re fed up with your local politicians. It’s time YOU ran for election. Previously, conducting a sophisticated campaign and having any chance of displacing an incumbent would requires a ton of money and expertise you probably don’t have. Luckily, now there’s NationBuilder, a “toolkit for leaders” that lets you create a professional, social website for galvanizing and organizing your supporters.

NationBuilder lets you raise money, collect local voter files on who’s registered, create a supporter database, coordinate volunteers to phone your constituency or go door-to-door, and offers everything else you need to get elected. Plans come as cheap as $19 a month for small campaigns. Since NationBuilder is affordable and non-partisan, it lowers the barrier to becoming a candidate and levels the political landscape.

Since raising $6.2 million from A-list investors in March, NationBuilder has nearly doubled the number of projects and campaigns it helps organize to 950, including ones for big-name candidates like Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Co-founder Joe Green, formerly of Causes, tells me “NationBuilder shifts power away from big special interests, and towards grass roots candidates. It makes who gets elected not about endorsements of wealthy groups. It empowers candidates to win because of the way they talk to voters and the message they give. A lot of people say politics should be more like business. We actually think politics should be more like the Internet. It should be permission-less.”

With the knowledge, connections, and tools these startups offer, it can be. So this July 4th, take tech in hand and make your voice heard. You don’t need anyone’s permission to change the world.

For more on democracy technology, check out these videos (parts 1, 2, and 3) of my panel on Social Meda + The Vote at LA’s Silicon Beach Festival last month.

[Image Credit: Jesse Brown]