Former Wolverine Peterson Creates Votable App to Educate Next Generation
10/13/2020 12:35:00 PM
// Sarah VanMetre
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Veronica Peterson, or Roni Hicks as she was known while wearing No. 3 on the basketball court from 2008-11, realized something as she geared up for the 2020 election: she had never done any research on the candidates or what nuanced information was on the ballot. Sure, she had voted before, but that was more of just checking the box to say that she did it.
Instead of just doing some research for herself, she decided to build an app named Votable. She put her education — an industrial operations engineering degree from the University of Michigan and master’s degree in computer science from the University of Chicago — and her work experience as a software engineer at Morningstar to the test. She built the app by herself, working on the coding, design and content.
The app allows users to access information about the different government branches, see a sample ballot, learn how to vote by mail and a look at some of the social justice issues at the forefront, just for example.
As Election Day nears, Peterson admits the app is not entirely where she wants it to be. She is working on building an accountability piece that will help users track the decisions being made by elected officials to continue to be informed on what is going on. She wants this app to be relevant following the 2020 election, inspiring a new generation to become educated on their role in government and to stay active instead of just waiting to cast a vote every two or four years.
On the genesis for the app …
“I have been in engineering for several years on the web and mobile side. This year with everything that happened, both with the pandemic and the social unrest that came over the summer following the murder of George Floyd, I really got the message. Previously, I voted but never really did the research. I would check the box, and I can’t say that I have ever been into politics or government. U.S. government was never my favorite subject at all.
“I got inspired by people like John Lewis and how he said voting is the most powerful tool in a democracy. It allows each one of us some form of power to change things. I think that was what a lot of people this past year have become awakened to. It showed ignorance on my part to not take the step of becoming educated and informed before I go participate in voting. Being a technologist and a millennial, I needed somewhere I could go to get this information in a digestible manner.”
On getting it started …
“With the work I have been doing the past few years on projects at work, I started to get a vision. I just wanted to start building it. I have a couple of close friends who are much more educated about our government and voting than I was. They became my subject-matter experts and helped me get this platform together. I pivoted from a different side project I was doing and built Votable in a little over a month.
“Since then, I have gotten some really great feedback. I think when you build something that solves a problem for yourself, you are on the right track because there are a lot of other people out there who have the same problem. Votable isn’t all the way there and where we want it to be, but it’s a place where you can go and learn about government, understand the different roles of people on the ballot and how they impact you. We want people to be able to see information on current political issues, specifically tied to social justice. We have news and editorials around that type of content.”
On her process to build to it …
“We wanted to get the issues up there first, like how voting is impacting small businesses and what voter suppression looks like, for instance. Then we wanted to focus on the top part of the government, the three branches. Step-by-step, we created a road map and just kept finding what we thought was key information. We wanted to build around that and keep going. What is the smallest thing you can offer that will bring the most value? It might not be perfect and it might not provide all the answers, but that is what you have to go with. You have to find your scope and stay there. We have been doing that bit by bit.”
On the audience Votable is trying to reach …
“Of course, for me, it was really everyone in a way. It was definitely for those people who have never researched before voting in an election. Organically, as we began to share it, that age group more than likely is the younger or newer voters. Especially with the first wave of Gen Z, this is their first election. With it being an app, with it being educational, it automatically grew into that direction. We had a lot of people circulating this through networks of schools. I had a coach who shared it with many people and they shared it with their teams. Anyone can find something on the platform, it’s great.”
On her vision for the app following the 2020 general election …
“Becoming a platform that people can use to stay up-to-date on issues and eventually use this as a way to keep our elected officials accountable. Accountability is one of the biggest things. These are people we have chosen to represent us in making decisions that affect all of us.
“If a decision is made that you don’t feel like represents you, now you have some insight into that so then you are ready for the next election. And you don’t have to wait for another election. Those who want to be active, you always have access to write those elected officials in office and get more involved. There has been a lot of “go register, go register, go register” messaging out there. For me, now that you’re registered, this is what you should do with your registration. Registration is the first step, but you have to do your research and stay active.”
Votable is available for download in the Apple App Store or on Google Play.