Voting in Austin: The Startup Perspective

As the 2018 midterm elections arrive and news outlets report that record numbers of people already voted in Texas, I wonder why the percentages of people who vote aren’t higher. I believe that voting is important because if I want political changes to happen, I need to do my part in the process. Logically, I know that I’m unlikely to find one candidate or party that I agree with 100% on all issues, but I vote regardless.

In fact, I can’t remember any election where I didn’t vote, and I think for me, living in different locations around the country has helped me to appreciate why I should vote. In each location, civic issues are important to citizens for different reasons that I learned as I adjusted to each new place. So the idea of voting became part of the process of moving — register to vote when I update my address, then vote at the appropriate time.

Since I’m involved with startup media in Austin, I probably spend more time than the average person consuming news from various media outlets, so my perspective of the numbers of people who vote could be biased. I contacted another person involved with media in Austin to find out a different perspective, Naji H. Kelley, Founder and CEO of BLNDED Media. Naji’s view on the matter was more nuanced than my own:

Naji’s Perspective

I have mixed feelings sometimes when it comes to voting because as a young Black male, knowing more about this nation’s historical track record doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve asked myself why I should vote for those in a system that was not designed for me? And why should I engage with anything that comes from it? Understanding that this system was not designed for someone like me is not a motivational factor to vote.

Working in the startup space for the last few years and having the opportunity to go through programs such as Leadership Austin to learn and see first hand how integrated politics and business are have been impactful for me.

The value of understanding more about how our political system works has helped me see a different perspective about the issues. I’m also able to see first hand that the people we elect have a positive and negative ripple effect for generations to come. Voting not only impacts you personally, but it impacts your local community, city, state, and nation. To me, that’s a huge reason why it’s important to vote.

Last but not least, I think about those currently serving in the US military and those who made the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, in order to protect the freedom and right for us all to vote. I would sincerely hope that we all exercise our duty as citizens in this country to cast our vote because those who we elect in office need to be held to a high level of servant leadership and accountability.

My Observations of the Austin Startup Community

I did a bit of looking at what groups in the Austin startup community were doing to promote voting and civic tech. I expected corporate giants like Dell and other legacy tech companies to be leaders in advancing civic tech or promoting voting, but that wasn’t the case.  

The service industry in Austin is interested in rewarding people who already voted by telling them to hold on to your “I voted” sticker and trade it in for a beer, ice cream, or other discounts at a growing list of Austin Austin businesses.

Austin ridesharing services are offering various discounts or free rides to polling locations. Ride Austin even held a voting-oriented contest during early voting that awarded ride credits.

I’m impressed with Alamo Drafthouse’s Filmmaking Frenzy, a film contest that required participants to create a non-partisan PSA that encouraged participation in the voting process. Even better, Alamo Drafthouse will open late on Election Day to allow employees time to vote.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Austin Tech Alliance’s summer voter registration drive or the work they did with Informed.vote, where they asked City of Austin candidates questions about issues relevant to tech workers.

Finally, an effort by the startup community is the AtxStartupVote pledge, a non-partisan effort started by a group of Austin CEOs and startup founders. Participating founders and CEOs who sign the pledge commit to allow their employees some paid time during the day on November 6th to vote, with flexible work times and extra long lunches among the suggested ways to participate. I’m excited to see how many Austin Startup CEOs will ultimately join the pledge.

Remember to vote on Tuesday, November 6th, and stay tuned to this space and to BLNDED Media for more news on the Austin startup community.

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