Midterm elections are right around the corner! Are you ready to cast your vote? If not, Maria Yuan, CEO, and Founder of Issue Voter has made it easier for hundreds of Americans to learn about bills, get involved, and create an impact online.
For the past few weeks, a lot has been happening in the realm of politics. Some people question what kind of impact their voice has, prior to casting their vote.
Yuan wants Americans to remember, there is always an opportunity to make their voice heard. “On the news, we see a lot of issues that are very polarizing where sometimes people feel like there is little hope in terms of changing a reps mind," she openly says. “What I think is also true, that people don't always realize, is there are so many bills that are up for vote every year." Representatives especially take individuals opinions into account.
This is Maria Yuan, CEO and Founder of Issue Voter. (Photo courtesy of Maria Yuan)
“Our goal is to make year-round civic engagement accessible, efficient and impactful so that people can really stay engaged," she exclaims.
Issue Voter is a non-partisan online platform that lets users send their opinions directly to representatives. “Our goal is to make year-round civic engagement accessible, efficient and impactful so that people can really stay engaged," she exclaims. Yuan aims to empower voters to stay informed and take action on policies they care about.
A couple of years ago, she was managing a State Senate campaign in Iowa, which is known for its voter engagement. The lack of involvement in the polls ultimately inspired her to create and launch Issue Voter right before the 2016 election. “I saw so much focus on elections, yet just like most Americans across [the country] people are disengaged during the off-season," she shares. “We vote for and re-elect our rep without truly knowing the real work that affects our life throughout the year."
The mission behind Issue Voter is to give everyone an equal voice in this democracy. During each session, Congress introduces 10,000 bills or more. “Nearly 1,000 of them are voted on, yet we're only hearing about a handful of them on the news," she says. What the online platform does, is send alerts to users before Congress votes on a bill. “With those alerts, we summarize a bill, along with bullet points from both sides and [provide] links to related news articles." From there the user will receive an email and choose if they'd like to support or oppose a bill.
Shortly after, the user will receive a personalized scorecard that tracks how often their representative is supporting key issues before an election. In fact, Yuan happily and proudly shares the results of Issue Voter's impact survey this year. “About 95% of our users have said that they are learning about issues for the first time after using Issue Voter," she comments. “And 60% said that after using Issue Voter they were motivated to take another form of action."
Users are able to vote on a bill and send their opinions electronically, in a non-disruptive process. Yuan finds this method to be the best way to persuade representatives. “There are a lot of calls to action around calling your rep, but unfortunately you don't always get through," she says. “With those methods, you don't always get to see the actual results of your call." On the other hand, Issue Voter tracks the activity of representatives. It tells you how your rep voted, how often s/he agrees with you on a bill and whether they attended a vote.
Issue Voter is unique compared to other apps and websites. Here's why:
You Get Information About Key Issues
They focus on issues, not parties. “That's important today because 40 percent of voters and almost half of all millennials are registered as independents," she points out. “According to Pew Research, 48% of millennials do not identify with a political party." As a result, Issue Voter provides facts and non-partisan information, which Yuan believes is harder to find on other platforms.
You Send in Your Opinion
Issue Voter sends emails not petitions. Yuan thinks sending an opinion electronically and directly is the best way to influence a representative's decision. “I think that historically we've been told by the advocacy world that the best way to make an impact is to be disruptive. In the end, that's not going to be a channel that's going to allow for a majority of voices to be heard," she says.
Issue Voter is an Easily Accessible Website
This is a website, not an application. “We are the only website that provides users with a personalized scorecard on how your rep voted on an issue." It is an accessible user-friendly online platform. Users do not have to sign in to interact with the website when they get an email.
Women, in particular, have made history this year. According to a New York Times article, “257 women are running for the Senate this fall," and “235 women won House primaries in 2018." In the context of elections, Yuan shared a very interesting point; women have voted in higher numbers than men in every presidential year since 1980.
Though it's true, Yuan also expressed concern. “There is other data out there that says 2 million fewer women than men contact congress every year. So, while women might be voting in larger numbers than men in elections, women are not doing as good of a job voicing their opinion throughout the year." Yuan hopes more people, especially women, interact with reps and vote.
What can you do to get ready to vote? Yuan suggests a few tips to first time and continuing voters.
Register and Check Your Voting Registration Status
“Register to vote or check your voter registration. Sometimes States try to clean out those lists based on people moving, or on those lists being old. Even if you think you're registered, double check before voting."
Issue Voter has an interactive map, on a separate website, that shows users every States voter registration and absentee ballot deadlines.
Request an Absentee Ballot
“The second thing to remember is that if you think you might be out of town on election day, request an absentee ballot. That'll ensure that you're able to vote ahead of time, that your vote will be counted."
Make a Logistical Plan Before Election Day
“Make a plan to vote. [Block] time in your calendar, [make] sure that you can get to the polls, [and encourage] other people to vote with you."
Check Issue Voter
“See how often your representative is representing you."
Yuan hopes this year, there is a better turnout for the midterm elections. “The lowest midterm election in 2014 was the lowest turnout since 1942 at just 36%," she says. “I definitely hope that in 2018, we don't repeat those turnout numbers. I hope that significantly more people vote this election."
Outside of the realm of politics, Yuan is passionate about her company. She generously provides advice for young founders and those looking to become entrepreneurs. “Advice in general that I think has helped me, is asking myself, 'If I don't do this will I regret it?' and if I feel like the answer is yes, then I do it," she laughed.
“It's a simple question to gut-check and follow your intuition in decision making, and I think that is something entrepreneurs learn to do." It wasn't always an easy process when Yuan was building her company and team for Issue Voter. In addition to following their intuition, she also advises them to never give up and find time to network with other entrepreneurs to learn more about strategizing, building a company or hiring.
In the years ahead, Yuan is looking to make a big impact with Issue Voter. “My goal is to be a household name by 2020," she exclaimed. “Right now we have users in all fifty states in over 400 of the congressional districts." As CEO, she is looking for partners and fundraising opportunities to expand the company. “We are in 99.5% of all Congressional districts in the US; We've sent nearly half a million opinions to Congress, so that has been really exciting; but for us to go to the next level, grow, [and] give everyone a voice we need to fundraise."
Yuan and her team at Issue Voter have already helped Americans become civically engaged and informed voters! She hopes to inspire and motivate many more.
“We've sent nearly half a million opinions to Congress, so that has been really exciting; but for us to go to the next level, grow, [and] give everyone a voice we need to fundraise."
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.