Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Can you hear me now Washington? – Part 1, What is TheVoterEffect?

In past elections, have you blindly voted for candidates knowing nothing about them or their campaign platform? Have you voted for an incumbent on name recognition only or simply because they had an “R” or “D” after their name without knowing their voting record?

Have you relied on the media for your political news? Do you believe everything you hear or read by the media? Do you watch campaign ads believing they can not say it if it is not true? Have you in fact allowed the media and campaign ads to shape your political opinions and votes?

Are you ready to change, to get informed, and to get more involved in the political process with the upcoming 2012 election? Many voters are. Many voters have even become citizen organizers.

The citizen organizer has the ability to identify like-minded individuals; to create political consensus; to establish political allies; to provide information outside of the candidate’s controlled message; and to persuade others in supporting or not supporting a candidate. This is true whether we are talking about political campaigns or existing politicians – whether proposed bills or existing legislation.

Have you ever wanted to ask a politician a direct question, to express your opinion on proposed legislation, and track a politician’s voting record? Would you know how to go about this? Would you consider the time and effort involved a deterrent?

There’s an easy and effective way to accomplish all of this now. TheVoterEffect is new, non-partisan, free, and available now. TheVoterEffect.com “demonstrates an active presence by voters and connects them to their representatives to work collaboratively as a part of The Effect – the collective voting power creating change.”

TheVoterEffect provides voters the ability to “access and view bills on the floor of Congress in real-time, cast virtual votes on bills, and connect with other voters.” It allows voters to “review, rate, and share representatives’ voting history” as well as to “track outcomes for accountability and transparency.”

TheVoterEffect provides voter opinion feedback and reports directly back to U.S. Representatives and Senators also.

Based in Omaha, TheVoterEffect CEO and Co-Founder Joe Elkjer is an entrepreneur/Internet businessman. From very early on, Joe knew that “working for himself would offer the most room for personal growth.” He is an independent and abstract thinker that likes to take ideas and make them a reality.

Prior to founding his own companies, Joe worked in sales and marketing within the music industry. In 2009, Joe founded Nuclear Minds Inc., Idea Creation Company, and Nuclear Minds Racing. In 2010 he co-founded The Voter Effect LLC, a political social network to allow users to be heard and actively involved in creating their future.

Based in Chicago, TheVoterEffect CTO and Chief Programmer Joe Dundas received his Ph.D. in Bioinformatics from the University of Illinois in December of 2010. His main area of research was structural bioinformatics, where he developed and implemented an algorithm to computational find structurally conserved concave surface regions across a family of proteins.

During his research career he built several web servers and databases, including CASTp. Dr. Dundas' education and research have given him a strong background in graph theory, statistics, and data mining. Dr. Dundas has been published in several esteemed journals including Nucleic Acids Research, BMC Bioinformatics, and the Journal of Molecular Biology.

TheVoterEffect United Kingdom based Director of International Impact Kevan Howley is also an executive of various companies spanning ICT, Business Services, Technology Innovation, Web 2.0+, and Property Development. Kevan brings global business experience with an exceptional reputation for propelling rapid profitable growth of international technology-enable services. Kevan “loves a challenge”, and he “wants TheVoterEffect to be instrumental in rejuvenating politics by breaking the legacy-media monopoly of voter and elected communications.”

An interview with Joe Elkjer and Kevan Howley:

BKH: What was your “light bulb” moment for TheVoterEffect?
JE: It was a combination of ideas between Dave Stebbins, another Co-Founder, and me. The light bulb for me personally came a couple years ago at the beginning of the “bad economy.” I had a bigger picture understanding that the future of social media is not just about sharing the current moment. The future of social media allows users to be active in creating a more positive future for them.
KH: I found TheVoterEffect in a LinkedIn discussion group. I immediately realized it’s potential and contacted Joe to talk about leveraging it across the pond.

BKH: Is the company or website funded by any Political Action Committee (PAC) or lobbyist money?
JE: Nope.
KH: And it will stay this way, for neutrality of the medium is paramount. It is individuals that count – voters, candidates, and the elected.

BKH: How do you retain party neutrality with TheVoterEffect?
JE: Social media is interesting in that way. Users are both the providers and the consumers. We approach development of TheVoterEffect as a tool. It is a tool for all people to become more active and knowledgeable in creating a positive future.

BKH: Facebook has many people forming political groups. How is TheVoterEffect different?
JE: TheVoterEffect is an unbiased tool.
KH: And it is purpose-built with its central purpose being political engagement. It’s not just an add-on to a general purpose social networking platform, though it’s being quoted and leveraged by such.

BKH: Facebook has had a lot of member data privacy issues come into play in the past few months. How does TheVoterEffect handle member data privacy?
KH: We handle user privacy with the utmost care. We invite people to review our privacy guidelines detailed on the site.

BKH: What needs does TheVoterEffect meet?
JE: We meet the need for the people to become more involved.
KH: And, we meet the need for politicians to know what voters’ issues are as opposed to what big legacy media lobbies for.

BKH: Who is the target market for TheVoterEffect?
JE: The target market I want, are the people who can see the possibility of a positive future for the people of our nation.
KH: I also want the target market to be politicians who want to serve people more than party.

BKH: How do you counter any fraudulent results or hidden lobbying with TheVoterEffect?
JE: We monitor the data, and we would be aware and see patterns of strange activity.
KH: We apply our internal application of highly advanced structural bioinformatics algorithms.

BKH: Is it available for every U.S. Representative and Senator nationally?
JE: Yes.

BKH: Is it available for local and state politicians?
JE: Yes. Right now we don’t pull data from state legislatures, but it is in the works.
KH: Local is vital too, for there are many voters who have lost confidence in central government but still hold faith in their regional or local politicians. Politics can be driven up from local to national with TheVoterEffect. Many believe top-down national dictating to local has gone too far.

BKH: Does it contain information for every U.S. legislation bill or law?
JE: We focus on the current congressional year. That is what shapes our future government

BKH: Does it contain information for every local and statewide legislation bill or law?
JE: Not yet.
KH: Watch this space!

BKH: This would be a great teaching tool in the classroom. Is TheVoterEffect working with schools?
JE: We are in many classrooms across the country. We are currently developing the ability for schools to create their own secure sub networks, and are always willing to help kids learn. They are the future.

BKH: What are your ultimate goals for TheVoterEffect?
JE: I most want people to be involved in actively creating a positive future.
KH: I think its time to cut through the legacy-media monopoly of the communication channels between voters and the elected. It’s time for direct undistorted communications in both directions!

BKH: Thank you gentlemen.

Kevan is right in many ways. In 2008 an often minimized reality was the majority of the U.S. traditional media pushed Obama as their candidate due to their desire for an historic election for the most part. They controlled the brand and messaging for him in the media with limited exception. They endorsed him, and the reality is the objectivity of the media in the U.S. is gone.

The main stream media, most often liberally slanted, has continued to define and control the President Obama message for most Americans. In reality, they have already begun to endorse him for his re-election bid in 2012.

Yet, the media’s position as the definer of what is to be accepted as “good” like Obama or “bad” like the Tea Party movement is severely waning with the evolution of social media and voter engagement in general.

Social media now permits a pointing of people in a direction for news outside of information by the limited and possibly political philosophy controlled traditional news sources and the political candidate’s Internet networking.

We are definitely in the social media political era that allows and encourages voters every day to get connected and network, raise issues, ask politicians questions directly, follow voting records, and decide if they are being represented effectively. Voters will increasingly endorse a politician, or not endorse, based on informed and critical thinking.

Voters want a real seat at the table, and they know social media can easily facilitate this. Voters are more invested, and they feel ownership in the process. The expectation of two-way participation and communication in politics in real-time is an emerging and lasting dynamics with voters.

The days of politicians thinking the dynamic remains I talk, you listen, and you don’t question my message are over. The new dynamic is now you spoke, I listened; now you listen to me as I speak my experience and opinion - a two-way exchange and a more personal individual relationship is expected.

Should a politician ignore the two-way communication that social media fosters and voters expect, they will be viewed as out-of-touch and replaceable no matter how great the initial excitement, the strength of message, or the value of their platform.

In addition, once elected, politicians will have to live up to their campaign rhetoric in their actual voting record to be re-elected. The importance of listening to the people they represent is a growing factor with voters. TheVoterEffect easily and directly facilitates this for voters and politicians.

As Joe likes to say, “The future is bright, and it begins in Middle America.” Check out TheVoterEffect.com and follow on Twitter @TheVoterEffect.

See also: Part 2, TheVoterEffect Trends

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