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New Online Voting Platform Aims to Give Public Unprecedented Lobbying Power

From left, UC San Diego alumnus Arshya “Ary” Sharifian and UC San Diego undergraduate Miles Minton

A new online voting platform developed by UC San Diego alumnus Arshya “Ary” Sharifian and UC San Diego undergraduate Miles Minton now allows voters in North County San Diego to directly lobby their elected officials through weekly polls.

Called By the People, the platform was launched April 13 through a partnership with U-T San Diego and features real-time updates and follow-up emails on the stance elected officials ultimately take on various issues. The media company now features a poll on its North County homepage asking registered voters in Escondido whether they support initiatives in their districts. A new poll will be posted each week and the project could eventually be expanded to other cities.

According to Sharifian, the platform could be a “game-changer” for the U.S. democratic system as it collects the opinions of registered voters in a specific political area.

“Whenever a group is able to collect the opinions of registered voters and direct those opinions to specific legislators, they can have a deeper political impact with such campaigning/lobbying efforts,” Sharifian said. “This platform has the ability to possibly take out ‘the middle man’ lobbyist, so-to-speak, because it can give legislators instant access to the voices of their constituents.”

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation through UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering and the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center.

“Typically, concerned citizens call or write to their local elected officials to voice their opinions, but in general those calls and/or letters are rarely ever tracked using scientific data,” Sharifian said. “Because By the People is online, fast and can identify a person’s voter registration status, it is allowing technology to be a really powerful tool to hold legislators accountable to their constituents…We hope to facilitate grassroots lobbying in an online format.”

The first poll posted to the U-T San Diego website asked residents about an initiative that could appear on Escondido’s November ballot that would allow houses to be built on the now bankrupt Escondido Country Club.

Sharifian, who graduated with degrees in political science and philosophy in 2013, and Minton, a senior majoring in computer science, initially developed By the People in 2013 as a tool for UC San Diego students to vote on student government issues. Nearly 2,000 students participated — roughly 8 percent of the undergraduate student body. The pair decided to expand the online voting platform to the greater San Diego area.

“By reflecting the voice of voters on important public matters, the platform can help shape the response of elected officials,” Sharifan said.

Currently, registered voters in the City of Escondido can cast their opinions at utsandiego.com/vote on upcoming legislation. They are required to first create an account, by providing a valid email address and answering a question that confirms their status as registered voters. All information will be kept confidential.