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Sacramento-based Your Voter Guide is spearheading an all-online sample ballot to augment the 11 million voter guides mailed to California households for every election.
Your Voter Guide creators Philip Muller and Nikko Ambroselli said their guide can be used by interest groups and individual voters alike, aggregating thousands of districts’ candidates and tailoring the options to interest group or voter party preferences.
Individual voters using Your Voter Guide are prompted to enter their address, and are then shown a single page of candidates tailored to their voting location and party preference.
But the ability of interest groups and their list of endorsements to target their voters is the most specific.
“The problem (with conventional campaigns) is that if I wanted to run a campaign for a specific city council in Sacramento, and I wanted to market on Facebook, I would have to market to all of Sacramento, and/or some zip codes which may or may not be in my district,” explained Ambroselli, the site’s chief technology officer. “With this tool.... It’s very, very specific to every single address that’s typed in. Not zip code, not zip code plus five. And that’s what really separates us from any other service.”
Combining voter files with geographical location allows organizations to target specific voters and eliminates geographical limitations of online marketing, Ambroselli said. “No matter where a person comes from, they’re prompted with the same question, ‘Where do you live?’ And they’re delivered unique guides.”
Ambroselli and Muller were quick to discern between data aggregation and data mining: All data used to create each voter guide – including voter files from voter registration and electoral, water, cemetery districts and more – is public information, though voter files with the stipulation that they be used for political purposes only.
“We aggregate data. We don’t mine it,” Muller said. “We aggregate it and make it so that it’s really simple for people to become informed voters. We signed numerous contracts in agreement that we’re not going to try to use it to sell anything.”
And despite being so new – Your Voter Guide’s “first real run” was in this year’s June election – the company is growing fast, expanding to five more states.
“We started working on it over a year ago,” Ambroselli said. “We spent a long time developing it and acquiring the data and bringing it online. It’s really a meshing of two industries – politics and technology.”
Some of the company’s clients – acquired in a two-month blitz of contacting political and public relations directors – include the California Republican Party, the Democratic Party of Sacramento, the California Teamsters, and even Mayor Kevin Johnson’s campaign.
“Our folks are all over the state,” said Terry McHale, representing Cal Fire. “We just wanted a reliable clearinghouse that provided information to our firefighters when they needed it.”
Paper voting guides are still the preferred form for many individuals, however.
“They’re familiar with how it works on paper, but they don’t see the benefits of bringing it online yet,” Ambroselli said.
And with the California state government already supplying paper and online voting guides to every voting household, in multiple languages, voters have the best of both worlds, said California Secretary of State spokeswoman Shannan Valayas.
Your Voter Guide and the state-supplied voting guides are not necessarily at odds: The former “is designed to be an augmented communication tool and not a replacement,” Ambroselli said.