This is the last week to register to vote in many parts of the country, and with several pivotal midterm elections on deck, it's a good time to make sure you're an informed citizen. Normally this would entail things like reading up on the issues, but these days apps and sites are trying to make choosing what candidate to back as simple as online dating.
Voting tools use the same basic framework: They ask you a bunch of questions to determine your fundamental stance on the issues, then recommend candidates whose platform matches your personal ideology. I gave three sites a whirl to see how well their picks fit my potential voting behavior: On The Issues, ISideWith.com, and Vocativ's new Votr app.
Maybe it was the stream of ads running down the site with headlines like "How Men Are Increasing Testosterone" and "New Fat Burner Takes GNC By Storm" but I didn't have high hopes for OnTheIssues. The bare bones design was hardly aspirational and didn't seem to have be updated much since 2012; there are pages devoted to the 2014 election but they're clearly gearing up for 2016. Still, the site's information is impressive, and there's detailed info about the races in every state, including links to debates.
In the quiz section I could focus my queries in specific and weird ways, matching my preferences with Big City Mayors, Supreme Court Justices, 2016 Presidential Primary candidates, and even elections in the past.
But the questions on the quiz were almost too succinct—"Teach family values in public schools"—and without seeing them in complete sentences I actually got confused and selected the wrong thing several times. There was a link to more information, sure, but just a little more wordsmithing attention to the questions would have been nice. After 20 questions you're unceremoniously taken to another page (with more ads) which shows you your political match. There's also a detailed explainer about your personal political philosophy. According to the poll, I'm a Libertarian. (I'm not a Libertarian.)
Right away I was enamored with ISideWith.com. Not only was the design of the site good-looking (vaguely Obama-esque in style), it immediately knew I was in California and framed my entire experience locally, recommending both candidates running in the state, and specific state ballot measures.The questionnaire was detailed, but not too long or time-consuming. Beside each issue there was a "learn more" button with a paragraph of background information. I also liked that instead of just choosing what I was for or against in the issues survey, I could also use a slider to indicate that certain issues were more or less important to me.
But here's maybe the coolest thing. There was a "choose another stance" button which had up to five more qualified descriptions, should simple pro or against not fit the bill. This nuance is important, especially for voting decisions. After the survey I was presented with a complete voter guide, including each candidate and ballot measure to support, the date of the election and even where to vote in my neighborhood.
With beautiful design, good questions, and the ability to capture the nuance on issues and focus locally, I'll take this voter guide to the polls.
Pitched to me as a "Tinder for voting," Votr tries to mimic the online dating interface down to a kind of "hot-or-not" swipe interaction that quickly approves or discards potential candidates. One disclaimer is that at the moment, the app only includes candidates for open Senate seats.
I began with a pretty general survey, where I experienced the most troubling part about the entire app: The "issues" were represented by emoji. Although I suppose this was well meaning, a ploy to inspire Millennials to engage, this feature completely turned me off. Nevertheless I went through their survey questions, wincing at the bald baby head emoticon they'd picked for "Pro-Life."
Sadly, this poor design choice was part of a bigger problem: Oversimplification of the issues. I spent several minutes trying to figure out what a question like "Your Bank Account is: Flush With Cash (moneybag emoji) or I.O.U (credit card emoji)?" was getting at. Was it trying to ask me if I was poor? And then it asked if I had hair or was bald (wait, WHAT?). And then it asked if I preferred Beyonce or Rhianna. After getting my take on such important queries, you'd think Votr would have trouble locating candidates who actually matched my beliefs. It actually did a pretty good job, picking a few candidates who mirrored almost my exact answers. But that's probably not really hard with such stereotypical descriptions.
The app distilled a candidate's personality into a few emoji-illustrated blurbs and a "fast fact," like this one for Jeff Boss of New Jersey: "Jeff believes the United States government, specifically the National Security Agency, is responsible for the 9/11 attacks." What a fact! But surely there is more to Jeff?
The bottom line? These apps might not help you pick a candidate, but at least now you'll be able to pick a voting app. Whatever you choose, follow the advice of Lil' Jon.