No Excuses: Austin Startup Leaders Pledge to Support Voter Turnout

Xconomy Texas — 

As Election Day nears, a group of Austin startup leaders have formed a group to encourage tech employees to vote.

The ATX Startup Pledge’s mission is to “remove obstacles” that might exist, like feeling that you can’t take time away from work, that could prevent employees from going to the polls on Tuesday. But, more importantly, the effort acknowledges the need for the startup ecosystem to wholeheartedly participate in civic endeavors in their communities, says Christa Freeland, managing director at Powershift Group and an organizer of the effort.

“Tech drives such a huge part of life,” she says. “Tech needs to be a leader. … We’re used to bringing change on big, important things anyway.”

Others in the effort include Brett Hurt, co-founder and CEO of data.world; Dan Graham, co-founder and CEO of Notley Ventures; and Capital Factory founder and CEO Joshua Baer. Freeland says she expects to get at least 50 executives to sign onto the effort as the homestretch to Nov. 6 approaches.

The ATX Startup Pledge is one of several efforts by tech communities around the country to drive up civic participation in the wake of the 2016 election and subsequent scrutiny about how, most notably, social media companies have affected election results—and what responsibility tech companies have, in general, in a community’s civic welfare.

Last month, Houston programmer Nile Dixon launched a chatbot called TextToVote to connect voters in 38 Texas counties to polling places for early voting. So far, Dixon says about 250 people have used the bot; early voting in Texas ends Friday.

And this week, Notarize, a Boston-based online notary startup, said it will notarize absentee ballots for free. Pat Kinsel, Notarize’s founder and CEO, says the idea came about following complaints in South Dakota, which requires people to get the certification of a notary public to cast absentee votes. “We hope more people vote,” Kinsel told my colleague, Xconomy senior editor Brian Dowling.

Austin’s startup ecosystem has been mobilizing along civic tech lines—especially in favor of progressive candidates and causes—in the last year. Dan Webb, an executive at Civitas Learning, organized a “political hackathon” to crowdsource tech tools to help Democratic politicians. Joseph Kopser, a veteran and former West Point professor who sold his transportation startup RideScout to Daimler in 2014, took his engagement up a notch. He’s running for the U.S. Congress in Texas’s 21st district as a Democrat.

“We just want to help promote that Election Day is so important and voting is so important,” says Freeland of the ATX Startup Pledge group. “We want to make one last big push to vote, so there’s really no excuses.”