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Elections / Municipal government / Philadelphia Neighborhoods / Politics / Startups

ElectNext CEO and Princeton grad Keya Dannenbaum: smarter voters make smarter communities

They're gamifying voting to encourage you to know the candidates.

A screenshot from ElectNext (Courtesy Photo)
The following is a report done in partnership with Temple University's Philadelphia Neighborhoods program, the capstone class for the Temple's Department of Journalism.

Too many voters feel overwhelmed or unprepared to cast ballots on Election Day, so they either choose candidates randomly or never vote at all.
This was Keya Dannenbaum’s concern that fueled the idea behind ElectNext, a startup that was formally launched at the TEDx Philly event Tuesday at the Performing Arts Center at Temple University. Technically Philly first told you about the DreamIt Ventures startup, but now that the dust has finally settled on Philadelphia’s latest municipal election, we thought it worth hearing more.
Featured by TechCrunch and NewsWorks, ElectNext is a website-based matching platform that helps voters vote well down their ballot.
“People go out to vote, and they know who they want for president, or whoever is at the top of the ticket, but they walk into that ballot booth and they are confronted with a ballot three pages long, filled with people and offices they have never heard of,” said Dannenbaum, the startup’s CEO and founder.

The way ElectNext works is similar to an online dating service. In advance of the election, people can register for ElectNext, answer a few questions about their political views and discuss the issues that they care about.
“Based on [the member’s] location, [ElectNext] shows them all the candidates that are running in their upcoming elections, and who be the best fit for them,” Dannenbaum said. From 2005 to 2007, Dannenbaum was enrolled in a PhD program in politics at Princeton University, where she was inspired by a class on democratic theory and practice, and how people vote.
Dannenbaum was so interested in the subject that she left the program and started working closely with elections, first with the Hillary Clinton 2008 presidential campaign and later with local elections in Connecticut.
“I saw that going from the national level to the local level, there was a huge disparity in political knowledge and political participation,” Dannenbaum said. She had traveled the world seeking an opportunity to have impact — with tours in South America and India — but found U.S. cities had the need for champions. Famously low voter turnout was a part of the problem, she said.
Dannenbaum experienced this disparity first hand when she herself did not vote in the 2010 mid-term elections after moving to Philadelphia that year.
“I thought, if I’m suffering with this problem that it’s too hard to figure out who I want to vote for, then I can’t be the only one. That was kind of the genesis [for ElectNext],” Dannenbaum said.
Dannenbaum came up with the idea for ElectNext with Paul Jungwirth while they were studying at Penn earlier this year. The two collaborated and worked over the summer to develop and test the startup after releasing a prototype in June to a handful of beta testers.
ElectNext was re-released in September when it was tested among a larger group.
“I’m really excited about the launch. We have been so attentive to voters and the users of our site, and what they are looking for. The people that we have showed the new version to so far are confirming that we have successfully responded to what people are asking for,” Dannenbaum said. “That feels really good.”

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