July 7, 2014

Empowervote Uses Compatibility Software To Connect Voters, Candidates

Liz Segrist  /  Charleston Regional Business Journal

Ty Holland thinks straight-ticket voting is one reason for low voter turnout and low approval rating of politicians in the U.S.

Holland wants to change the way voters learn about candidates and the way candidates share their views through Charleston-based Empowervote, a site that uses compatibility software to match voters to candidates based on the issues. Empowervote has launched in South Carolina and North Carolina.

Holland, the managing partner of the company, hopes to entice eligible voters to get engaged via the issues and participate in the democratic process.

By entering their ZIP code, voters can pinpoint upcoming elections and see every race on the ballot, which includes local municipal elections up through U.S. Senate races. Voters next choose from a list of national and statewide issues and complete an issues-specific compatibility survey before seeing which candidates they match with.

Voters can save their matches to a "voter card," which can be shared on social media or emailed for a reference at the polls.

As for the candidates, a profile is created for each of them, but they have to personalize it and take their own compatibility survey to complete it.

"Each question in the survey that they don't answer, they are missing an opportunity to interact with voters," Holland said.

The platform helps level the playing field for all candidates by potentially showing voters that they match with someone they had not heard of or with someone of a different party affiliation, Holland said.

Empowervote's footprint

The idea for Empowervote was born a few years ago when Teri-Lee Holland and Ty Holland, who are married and are Empowervote's managing partners, were chatting about the need for a platform that matches voters with candidates based on compatibility.

They began building the company in 2012 with business partner Rich Walker at Walker's house on Spring Street in downtown Charleston.

They plan to take the platform nationwide; currently around 3,500 registered voters are on the site.

Empowervote wants the 2014 elections to help build momentum for the company in preparation for generating revenue, securing financing and hiring technical and sales personnel in Charleston next year.

The company envisions expanding into other sectors as well, such as student body elections in high schools and boards of directors for companies.

"We're not trying to influence anything other than to make better voters for better election results," Holland said.

Patrick Arnold, a regional political strategist, expects candidates to increasingly look for ways to engage with voters directly online. Voters are becoming apathetic to the onslaught of political campaigns and want direct information and interaction to stay active, Arnold said.

"It's becoming much more common for campaigns to digitally interact with voters through websites and platforms. This one is unique in that it promotes engagement," Arnold said. "Voters can get involved and find out where candidates stack up and candidates can see if voters match with them."