The Polling Place
Every year, siblings Anya and Karsen help their Taiwanese-American grandparents vote. Even before Anya turned 18, she would run through her grandparents' ballots, research every candidate, and impartially explain their priorities and policy positions in Chinese. Over time, Anya and Karsen realized that it is difficult and time-consuming to find information on all candidates, especially those in school board and city council elections. It can sometimes take hours to compile information on candidates, which is time that many Americans don't have.
Motivated by low voter turnout and disparities in access to nonpartisan information about candidates in local elections, Karsen and Anya founded the Polling Place, a data-driven website that informs voters on all candidates in Arizona elections. Anya's hypothesis that their grandparents were not alone in their struggles proved accurate. In just one month, the Polling Place website received over 20,000 views from politicians, newspaper editors and voters.
The team recognized that information on candidates running for office, especially local candidates, is disorganized and difficult to find. “To remedy this problem, we founded The Polling Place, a nation-wide, youth-led nonprofit and website dedicated to providing detailed information on all candidates running for office. Although we began in Arizona, our goal is to make informed voting accessible for all Americans," Anya notes.
The team argues that the accessibility gap in informed voting stems from a lack of accountability on behalf of local candidates who have a duty to convey their policy platforms to citizens. “Citizens and politicians need to be less apathetic and more engaged. That engagement in the political system will in turn prompt accountability and more effective policies. When our politicians reflect us, our democracy moves forward. Casting an informed vote and encouraging civic engagement is the first step in that process,” says Anya.
The Polling Place’s efforts are driven by constant collaboration. The team is recruiting high school and college students from all across the nation to help them research and create candidate profiles in preparation for upcoming elections, as well as to establish a strong online presence to ensure that their candidate databases can be easily found by voters. “We are especially focused on collaborating with youth in rural areas, where constituents are often disconnected from local politics and candidate information is particularly scarce.”
With the help of their diverse and expanding team of students, the Polling Place team are also establishing local chapters across the country that will coordinate events such as voter registration drives and town halls — providing other avenues for engagement for local community members. The team is also working to make the platform accessible to those whose first language is not English by making their information available in multiple languages, starting with Spanish.
Within the past few months, the Polling Place has gone national— expanding to over 20 states with 100+ members. They are also working on setting up their new website, a project the team is really excited about. “We’ve raised thousands of dollars to hire a web designer, and we’re excited to make our website a resource for Americans throughout the 2021 and 2022 election cycles. The website is the most important thing for an organization like ours that is trying to make information as accessible as possible to engage citizens.”
Peace First supported the Polling Place through customized coaching and a $250 mini grant to contribute towards their website redesign fund. The team was recently featured on our monthly US and Canada Instagram live show in conversation with our regional manager, Brennan Lewis.