Can we “Make America Great Again?” Donald Trump surely hopes so. With nearly two dozen Republicans running in the primary election and uncertainty pervading the Democratic Party, the White House is anybody’s game—not least of all Trump’s. How can voters wade through the fray of candidates? We’re happy to say, there’s an app for that.
Ten years ago, IVY Member Rasheid Scarlett’s mother asked him who he was planning to vote for in the upcoming Presidential election. He had no idea. He went home, did some research, and made a quiz to help him decide. And for each election since, he’s kept making the quiz. After a few iterations and over 500,000 hits on his quiz, SmarterVote was born, and now offers people an easy, non-biased way to evaluate important issues and see where they align.
Rashied sat down with IVY Magazine to talk about SmarterVote and how he plans for it to revolutionize the way people think about voting. “It’s like eHarmony for voters,” he said, referencing the roughly two-dozen questions the app; it shows people their match.
Rasheid Scarlett is an IVY member. Connect and collaborate with him here.
Learn the Issues for 2016
What do you think the most game-changing issues will be for the 2016 Presidential Election?
Immigration immediately jumps out, since Trump has made a huge push to bring that issue to the forefront. It’s become hugely polarizing. People feel very strongly about both perspectives, and everyone wants to air his or her opinions about it.
Also, I think another major issue is the Affordable Healthcare Act and whether or not candidates feel it was a positive move and what lessons were learned from its passing. Again, people are really polarized on this issue. People are asking: do we want to keep it, or do we want to repeal it? I think that’s really going to bring a lot of people to the fold.
IVY: How do you choose which issues will become parameters on SmarterVote?
The objective is to see what each candidate talks about on his or her website, what he or she feels are the hot-button topics. I also try to get a sense of what the media considers hot-button topics. We try our best not to avoid anything controversial because I think it’s those controversial issues that might be the difference-maker for people. Also, it’s important to get the right data for each candidate. For some topics, candidates don’t have clear opinions, so we’re not able to put those in our system.
We can’t put anything into our quiz without finding valid factual proof — either the candidates voted on a bill, said in a speech, or there’s some other kind of proof. We definitely do our best to fact-check all the media outlets, while accounting for the fact that most media outlets have a slant on their information. The non-biased perspective is very important to us.
Let SmarterVote Pick Your Match
IVY: How do you think SmarterVote captures people and demographics who might not be typically drawn to politics?
We’ve spent a lot of time trying to capture people with the mobile version of SmarterVote because we’ve noticed most of our users are coming from mobile devices. So we’ve actually given it a Tinder-like user interface. In keeping with the whole “online-matching” scenario—in Tinder you can swipe left or right—now, you can also do that with your phone when you’re deciding your opinion on the political issues.
Swipe left or right to agree or disagree with a political view, up for more information, down if you don’t care about the topic. We’ve worked to make the mobile version as quick and as familiar as possible. Of course, I’m not saying that the person you align with according to our app is the person you should unequivocally vote for, SmarterVote is just another source of information.
IVY: How do you think most people decide who to vote for?
I actually think ads are highly influential, and that worries me because I feel like ads contain wrong information or misinformation. You can skew a statistic to look like whatever you want it to look like, and then viewers have misconceptions.
Branding is also critically important. Each party brands itself a certain way, and people look to those big branding trends when they’re making a decision. For example, Republicans tend to cater to the religious right or to people who are pro guns, and Republicans have marketed these issues so much, people become convinced that they the “important” issues they should be voting for. Democrats, on the other hand, have worked hard to market themselves as the party of the minorities (racial, sexual preference, etc.), so sometimes people almost feel ostracized by their community if they aren’t standing up for those rights. A lot of people have just bought into branding, but I’ve found they really need to look into the details of each candidate.
IVY: How do you think SmarterVote levels the playing field for Third Parties and Independents?
SmarterVote is going to be great for Libertarians, Independents, and other third parties. I am excited for them — and I say that without being pro-anybody in particular — but I feel like this platform is a great way for that smaller party to get seen.
My hope is to eventually link back to each candidate’s site, so once you learn about them, if you feel strongly enough about who they are and what they believe, then you can start following them and even possibly contribute.
IVY: Are most people are surprised by the candidate chosen for them by SmartVote?
Yes, definitely. As I watch users see their final results, if they haven’t picked who they thought was their top candidate, they almost feel the need to justify why the person they aligned with is not their choice. Or they’ll laugh if it’s the opposite party. There are some people who didn’t even know who was running, so they are more educated than anything.
Most people are looking for SmarterVote to affirm what they already believe. I have no true intention but to open people’s eyes so they see all the possible candidates and those candidates who might have similar opinions to them.
Keep Up with Election News
IVY: What candidates are doing a great job in communicating their position?
Overall, the Republicans have had to be a lot more vocal because of how many there are. A lot of them have spoken out about issues in order to try to grab more media attention. In terms of individual candidates, from what I’ve seen, Bernie Sanders seems to be one of the most open. He’s very obvious about the issues and how he stands on them, and I’ve really appreciated his candor.
I’ve noticed that Hillary has been more coy. I’m not sure if that’s a short-term approach or whether it’s a way to let the storm die down on some of the other news surrounding her right now. And that’s by no means a slam on her; it’s just an approach I’ve noticed. She’s been a little less vocal on opinions in general.
IVY: How do you stay informed of election news?
I don’t really have one go-to because I don’t want to have any slants or biases in my information as I’m setting up SmarterVote. So, I set up RSS feeds to a lot of sites, and I follow Twitter accounts for pretty much any site that has a political section.
I find myself going to Politico a lot, and I love Politicheck. I love the fact that they try to be as factual as possible after the debates. That definitely speaks to my psyche — I’m very objective, and some of these issues are so unclear, which makes it nearly impossible to write an algorithm for.
As a Washingtonian, I read The Washington Post, especially the political section, everyday and get their perspective. I also go to The Washington Times and get their take. I do my best to take lots of perspectives into account and come up with an unbiased view.
Building a Life-Changing Voting App
IVY: What are your goals for SmarterVote? Do you see SmarterVote expanding beyond Presidential elections?
SmarterVote is 100% ready to serve every single electable position in every jurisdiction. It’s a site than can learn and build quizzes as long as there are at least two candidates who can type in their positions and views. We actually have a back-end system, where candidates themselves can login and enter all the information for the quizzes, so we don’t have to even do the research. We have an admin and manual fact-checking process that we do every time a candidate enters information. One day, we hope SmarterVote will feature every candidate and every jurisdiction at every level—it’s all dependent on our ability to enter information and candidate’s willingness to enter their own information.
IVY: What has been your biggest challenge in starting SmarterVote?
The #1 goal for SmarterVote is to be the unbiased tool for people to use so they go to the polls more informed. Right now, the younger age group in particular just isn’t voting as much, so their opinions aren’t always getting addressed. The process has been fun and exciting, but it’s definitely run the gambit on my emotions. There are times when I’m so optimistic and certain that it’s going to change the world, but then there are times when I think people care more about Instagram than they do about the country’s future. So, I’m always asking how do I cater to every demographic.
IVY: How can the IVY Community support your project?
Spread the world about SmarterVote! Take the quiz and post it on your different social media platforms, so people know what it is and how it works. I’ve looking for partners too and for people to either integrate or join the team, especially if you’re in marketing or finance and interested in being a part of the project.
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