Local youths hoping their voting engagement platform catches on

Local youths hoping their voting engagement platform catches on

Clockwise from right, Shivesh Mehrotra, Arvind Sridhar and Lucien Gaitskell are the founders of Candivote, a platform designed to promote election participation on the local level.

CUMBERLAND – Three local graduates of the Wheeler School in Providence are hoping that their all-inclusive local election platform, Candivote, will catch on in area communities as a vital resource for getting people more active in their community’s government.

Shivesh Mehrotra, a Cumberland 18-year-old who made headlines last year with his 36 score on the ACT, is a founder of Candivote who plans on attending Yale University this fall. Through the platform at candivote.org, he said, voters can seek information, formulate opinions, and engage with local politicians.

Candivote offers two services to voters:

• First, they can take an in-depth questionnaire comparing their political values and ideals to that of their local politicians.

• Then, once matched with a candidate, Candivote becomes a hub to support the candidate, with options to donate, volunteer, and even send a message to their preferred politician.

Mehrotra, as well as friends Arvind Sridhar, of Franklin, Mass., and Lucien Gaitskell, of Barrington, are kicking off their efforts in Rhode Island in Cumberland, Central Falls, and North Providence for this year’s elections. Though they acknowledge there’s significant work still to do to fine-tune the program, they say it’s far more accurate than many of those national questionnaire-based candidate matching sites.

Sridhar said Candivote is meant to be as accurate as possible and is really easy to use.

Mehrotra, son of Vikas and Neelu Mehrotra of Cumberland, said the three friends see their main job being to educate voters who are out of the local political loop with valuable information. Rather than being the final determiner of who someone votes for, Candivote points people in the right direction, he said.

Gaitskell said the site matches voters based on how closely their answers align with the answers submitted to Candivote from candidates. No user answers are released to the public, said Sridhar.

Asked about questions and situations that don’t necessarily reflect real-world realities, such as the questionnaire stating that safety changes are proposed in schools and some people believe that they’ll scare students, or that the mayor is proposing adding new jobs to deal with the litter issue, the three friends said all questions are meant to draw out the priorities of the voter. They said they expect at some point to ask more nuanced questions that more accurately reflect what’s happening.

Really, said Sridhar, it’s about figuring out which candidates are more like you as a voter.

Users are asked to rank their answers in one of five categories on each question: Strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree.

They all acknowledged that questions purely based on hypothetical scenarios couldn’t ultimately determine the best candidate to vote for, as there are concrete issues and other factors that come into play when voting.

The platform doesn’t just show someone’s top match, but also shows the other candidates in a race, they said.

Mehrotra said the three are seeing some pretty good engagement both from users and candidates. He said he thinks dialogue about elections is so often focused on national or state races, while all-important local races are ignored. This platform is all about getting people more active and engaged locally, he said.

He said the friends don’t believe this “tool for democracy” should require a payment just to use it. All core functions are available to everyone, they said, which was very important to them, and then people who want to get more informed or dig deeper can choose to move on to more advanced services.

The homepage of the site states that the country is more divided than ever, but Candivote is the solution. It encourages voters to get away from parties and vote with those who represent their beliefs.

Sridhar said candidate engagement is really “what makes our platform happen,” and many candidates have been enthusiastic about the resource so far.

He said Candivote stays away from in-depth policy to really ask the questions about what someone prioritizes and match them with a candidate based on a simplistic structure.