Have you been wondering about the story behind the Campus Dems’ favorite voting website, TurboVote? Don’t worry, we weren’t, either, until we found out it was started by a Columbia grad. After doing some research, Bwog is here to enlighten you and make sure you get registered before November. We sent our ballot barista Brit Byrd to interview Seth Flaxman, who just so happens have (not really) fond memories of Bwog. If you’ve used the site already, congratulations on helping keep democracy alive! If you still need to register (or just find out what all the fuss is about), head over to TurboVote.
Flaxman: I started it two years ago, while I was in grad school, and basically I’ve always been interested in politics and elections and went to grad school to figure out why the interenet had revolutionized everything but government and then realized that I was missing almost all of my elections for every different conceivable dumb reason, and decided there actually is a pretty easy service I could build to fix that.
B: Your site says its mission is “making voting easy”; do you think this can ever be accomplished in full, or will there always be work to do one way or another?
F: Yeah, I do think we can make voting easy. Our long-term vision for what voting will look like is seamless vote by mail. Where you can register online, say you want to vote by mail online, and then your ballots will come automatically in the mail. You’ll get a text message to remind you to vote, mail the ballot back, and you’ll be able to vote next to your laptop.
B: I used your service, and I noticed that on my state’s forms, there wasn’t a specific “student” reason under excuse for not being in state. Have you run across instances where either municipalities or states have really tried to not accept your forms?
F: Just to review the rules, in 32 states and DC everyone can vote by mail without an excuse. And in every other state, if you’re a college student living away from home or a commuter, someone with an excuse you can vote by mail. The one thing we’re doing this election cycle that I’m excited about is we’re tracking our mail pieces, using a USPS IMB tracking system. So, if one of our users sends in their absentee ballot application, and doesn’t receive an absentee form, we will be able to go back, do some forensics, and hopefully call out local election boards that aren’t doing their job.
B: So we have several student groups on campus promoting you guys. How many different campuses are you currently aware that you are present on?
F: We’re at 51 colleges right now, all over the country. Even in the pilot of TurboVote, we had to make the service work for every state because you can find a student from every state at every campus.
B: So you were a part of student government here at Columbia…we were wondering what your opinion is of the average Columbia student.
F: Right now we have I think about one thousand Columbia students who have signed up for TurboVote, which is awesome. And I hope Bwog will encourage everyone to sign up, in the remaining days of the cycle when TurboVote can help you register.
B: Your resume is littered with all kinds of impressive work experience, education, and plaudits—including from Forbes. What inspired you to start up a non-profit, as opposed to all the other possibilities?
F: Wait, what are all those other possibilities again? Well I think… this is the only thing I really wanted to do. You have to do something that interests you, and for me personally, I spent a few years working at big institutions or being in school as parts of big institutions and I was sort of disenchanted in all of them. It was harder than I though it would but I’m still proud I did it.
B: If you’re familiar with Bwog, one question that we always ask is if you had to give up one thing, would you give up cheese or oral sex?
F: Bwog has been asking this question for far too long, it’s time to get a new question.
Questions and answers edited for length.
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