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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Apps for America: Snapvote

I came across the Sunlight Foundation’s “Apps for America” contest last week, and it reminded me of a side-project that I started that never got off the ground a couple years back. Add in today’s US Presidential inauguration and it was just too much for me not to share this idea. I’m now too busy with Ushahidi to do this, but I think it could be a good candidate for this competition, and I hope someone builds it.


Just over two years ago I was thinking about the upcoming US national elections and of building a web application that would be useful to the general public and which also had some business potential. I sat down and drew out an idea I thought had a lot of merit, and I actually sat down with two really smart people (Meagan Fisher and Jason Hawkins) and we ended up concepting most of the app. However, there was no code laid down, just a lot of background work trying to understand the feasibility, market and data.

It was called SnapVote: A tool for keeping citizens informed about elections in their area

SnapVote: Homepage Mockup

What is SnapVote?

We wanted SnapVote to be the easiest way for Americans to figure out whom to vote for in any political race. The name came from the idea that voters could get a snapshot of politicians, races and platforms before they voted.

We were going to provide a party-agnostic snapshot of who was running for office in each person’s area, voters would be informed in less time and with less hassle than ever before. Every politician who was running for public office would have a default profile on SnapVote, which could be upgraded for a small fee and that would allow the politician to have their own space on the web.

What’s the problem?

  • There’s a lot of noise around election time
  • Most of us are “lazy voters” who don’t really know who to vote for
  • We’re getting told what the issues are
  • Politicians have horrible websites that are hard to find

What’s the solution?

  • Quickly get a snapshot of who is running for office and what they stand for
  • Weigh in on the issues that YOU think are important – users decide
  • Every politician has their own website and can upgrade it for more features
  • Politicians get a snapshot (weekly/monthly) of the issues that are important to their constituents

What does it do?

  • A database of candidates for office at the federal, state and local levels
  • Aggregate user voting determines what issues are important for each constituency
  • Politicians can use Snapvote as their primary communication, fundraising and volunteer platform

The Objective

SnapVote was going to be the primary source of consumer information about politicians. From the President to the local dogcatcher, anyone who ran for public office would be accounted for. It would also serve as the primary website for information on any specific politician and created a website for each one.

SnapVote: Politician's Page

The Opportunity

SnapVote is in a position to be a first-mover in a fairly competitive-free space. 122 million people voted in the 2004 national elections, this is SnapVote’s constituency. Providing an easy-to-use tool that makes even the laziest of voters appear ready for Election Day is the goal. Secondarily, the profile for each politician will cost a fee to be upgraded. That number becomes quite large once you move past US President and Congress and start accounting for governors, mayors, city councils and congressmen for each state’s legislature. Initial income would come from politicians taking charge of their profiles on SnapVote. Other revenue opportunities would include aggregate data reports that could be sold to study groups, businesses and politicians.

SnapVote: Politicians (full)

More ideas

There was a lot more behind SnapVote, including aggregating people’s views on different political issues and politicians themselves. This data could be used to help individuals find politicians they shared the most in common with – especially for local elections. It also would come in handy for politicians, knowing what was being hot (or not) at the grassroots level.

As you can see from the mockup design work, there were also some thoughts around creating ways for politicians to raise donations and money easier, to plug into other social networks, events and getting people involved in their campaigns.

The biggest challenge is gathering the data on politicians running for office in local elections. As I called the different departments and organizations that handle this information around the country, I found that almost every state had a different set of rules for getting that data, and it was in a multitude of formats.


  1. It’s such a good idea, I swear that someone has already done it or something like it, that’s how good it is. The only sites I can think of like this are all preferential towards one party. It would be great to have a system that really just spewed out the facts so that you knew all these things. For instance, in San Francisco, we have an election every year. I have serious trouble keeping up!

    For those of us who are interested in things broader then the US (which I assume would be most of the readers here), it would be great to have something like this for world elections at large so that we know when to focus on a country. That way, when places like Ghana have normal, peaceful elections, they’ll possibly get more coverage.

    Off the topic, but did you hear about the new buses in Cote d’Ivoire? I searched your archives here and on Afrigadget, but found no mention of them in the past. Of course my searching skills could very well suck.


  2. WOW, Erik. I would go so far as to call this ‘idea’ beautiful. It’s a no brainer type project/proposal.

    Here’s my one caveat. One person/entity has control over everyone’s profile. For every politician in the whole of the US. Complete control over the information for everyone. That’s a big job. Security of the site from hacking and changing info on politician’s profiles would be HUGE! A smaller issue (just a difficulty, no reason not to do it): default info that is completely ‘party-agnostic’ for every politician in the US would be a large task to pull together. As you said yourself, there’s a ton of them when you start pulling in every local race across the US (ie. school board votes).

  3. Despite the constraints you mention in the final paragraph, I think this has the potential to be a powerful tool for local elections and specific propositions. It would be most effective in cases where the defining positions of candidates on issues directly affecting a community are clear cut and there is less scope for skating around.

    However, as one moves up to higher profile elections, the war rooms of the candidates become more sophisticated. For many politicians just sitting on the fence is a safe option. They seek to avoid commitment to divisive issues. Or better still, depending on his / her audience a politician would love to be able to claim to have voted for something but also against it. What mechanisms could SnapVote put in place to ensure candidates don’t end up confusing voters even further?

    On the other hand, the service would be great for those independent candidates who update to pro user status. You could offer them a choice of landing pages based on where the clickthrough comes from. If the voter arrives via Ann Coulter they get to see the candidate posing Palin style with a dead moose and a few NRA animated gifs. If the user was referred by the NYT then well, you get the picture.. : )

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