Who Are All These People?

Current HBS student Summer Nemeth (OC) has launched a new elections website focused on providing relevant information about state and local candidates to voters.

The idea for Imagine Election came one day as Summer Nemeth (OC) was sorting through her mail and feeling slightly guilty about throwing a bunch of political mailers into the trash. “Who pays attention to junk mail?” Summer mused. “I asked myself why all these candidates didn’t just go online, and I realized it was because no one even knows their names. They have websites, but normal voters can’t find them!”

The concept was born: a site where you could enter your address and see exactly who would be on your ballot. You would be able to click on a candidate’s name to see a bio, issue positions, and relevant links. And that creeping feeling of insecurity when you blithely put check marks next to names you’ve never heard of would disappear forever.

Best of all, there was a business proposition too: after all, candidates have a demonstrated willingness to spend money to reach out to their constituents. The evidence was in the cascade of candidate postcards. Further digging at Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance revealed that candidates for State Senate spent over $60,000 on their campaigns, and candidates for State House spent over $25,000 each.

Summer began working on the site in earnest in the second term of her RC year, and found the HBS community invaluable in planning and executing the launch of Imagine Election. Karen Ong (MBA 2008) inspired Summer to dive in and start building the website right away, and provided some practical hints about where to look for a reasonably-priced developer. Summer used the business plan contest as an opportunity to refine her ideas and get feedback from experienced investors. A fellowship from the Social Enterprise Institute Summer Fellowship enabled her to work on Imagine Election full-time over the summer.

“The support from informal channels has been terrific as well,” Summer notes. From a last-minute hookup to the Democratic National Convention from sectionmate Annie Christian (OC) and Jordan Bazinsky (OA), to numerous e-mails from friends alerting her to potential competitor sites, to the occasional Harvard/MIT entrepreneurial drinks event, Summer has found the HBS community a great help.

Imagine Election launched at the end of the summer, and features coverage of all of the races on the ballot in Massachusetts. “With only two weeks to go, I’m kind of running out of time – I’d love to have a Facebook app and an iPhone app,” Summer says. “But the feedback I’m getting from users is really encouraging. People who’ve been really frustrated trying to get information from state election officials have stumbled across my site and told me how much they like it. And traffic is going up every day.”

Summer plans to continue to pursue the Imagine Election concept after November 4th. “There is such a great need to connect voters with their state and local representatives in a more intuitive way,” she says. “Imagine Election has the potential to revolutionize state and local campaigns – and hopefully make them less about name recognition and incumbency, and more about finding the best, most qualified public servants for all levels of our government.”