During last summer’s protests against racial injustice and police brutality, Myron Ragsdale decided it was time to get serious about a project he’d had in mind for a few years. While he recognized that marches and public advocacy were important, he also wanted to get African American millennials more involved in and informed about the electoral process. “We can’t only protest and march,” he says. “We need to elect officials who can make change happen from the inside.”
So Ragsdale, a political junkie and serial entrepreneur, who runs 4th and Main Media, his own digital marketing firm in Detroit, built an app. Called InfoVote, it provides a nonpartisan, comprehensive array of information on everything from candidates to cabinet members, along with the ability for users to express their opinion about important issues. Ragsdale describes it as “the ultimate civics resource guide”.
Ragsdale’s immediate focus is on building interest in the midterm elections. Voter turnout and interest are typically higher in the general election, but fall dramatically in those in-between years. That’s especially a problem, he says, because important state and local elections happen then. “How we change the culture is at the local level,” he says.
Candidate Profiles and More
Work started in July and August, as Ragsdale feverishly tried to finish the app in time for the 2020 election. But he ran out of time. So Ragsdale decided to launch it during Black history month, to “get the ball rolling” before candidates started campaigning in earnest.
The current version includes a wide array of features aimed at informing voters about relevant information. Users can check their voter registration, find their polling locations and request an absentee ballot, in addition to learning about state and local candidates’ backgrounds and positions on various issues. There will also be regular updates, especially as it gets closer to the elections.
Voters at a polling station on election day
And there’s more. The app lets users tap a data base of state laws about voting rights for formerly incarcerated, plus an explainer on how to run for office, how the three branches of government work and information on everyone from federal, state and local elected officials, like mayors and city council members, to Supreme Court justices. Also, users can voice their opinions on various issues in a polling section.
That’s just the beginning. Take those polls. The goal is to build up a big enough user base that their outcome will influence candidates. “I want to be able to get politicians to take up important issues that affect the African American community,” says Ragsdale.
Ultimately, Ragsdale plans to interest educators in the app, particularly for teachers of juniors and seniors in high school. “There are a lot of 17- and- 18-year-olds who will be voting in the upcoming election and we want to get them involved,” he says. More than that, he sees the app as a way to address the paucity of civic education in schools and a lack of knowledge about the electoral process that hinders real political engagement. Plus, he hopes to expand the app to be useful to other countries.
Of course, the thing won’t work unless it attracts a critical mass of users. With that in mind, Ragsdale hopes to team up with local nonprofits to get the word out. He also is launching what he describes as a “huge marketing campaign”.
Ragsdale started his digital marketing company in 2019 after spending 10 years in a variety of corporate jobs. His best friend, a software engineer and graphic designer, had taught him how to build web sites, do social media marketing and the like, also urging him to use those skills to start his own company. Eventually, that’s what Ragsdale did.
The app is now a product of 4th and Main. Ragsdale also says he plans to figure out how to monetize it at some point. But for now, the focus is building up the user base. “This is an awesome civic tool,” he says.