New election web site free for voters, not candidates

Can you make a business out of helping voters vote?

A site launching today in Minnesota aims to find out. The site, eVoter Minnesota, gives voters easy access to information about the Aug. 10 primary.

You can type in any address at eVoter Minnesota to generate a sample ballot listing all the races and candidates in your area. It also gives you a map showing your polling place.

It’s free for voters. But the people behind eVoter are not providing the service out of the goodness of their hearts.

In an interesting twist, eVoter is trying to make money by getting candidates to pay for profile pages on the site. Prices range from $50 for city elections to $300 for federal and statewide races.

evoter.JPGWith the site just launching, it appears few, if any, Minnesota candidates have signed up yet. But in California and Illinois, where eVoter has already launched, plenty of candidates have hopped on board.

The politicians get a profile page that’s a bit like a Facebook page. It includes a candidate statement, a list of endorsements, video links and other information. The eVoter page for Illinois senate candidate Mark Kirk shows what the page looks like.

The site is owned and operated by Political Technologies, which is based in Miami, Fla. The CEO is Adam Kravitz, a corporate finance lawyer who helped lead several online dating services, including a site for Jewish singles called JDate.

The company is trying hard to stay above the political fray — even as it tries to turn candidates into customers.

“We are totally non-partisan, totally unbiased,” Kravitz said.

Does a candidate who pays for a profile page get better treatment on eVoter? Kravitz said candidates can spread their message via eVoter, but that no one gets preferential treatment.

“Everyone pays the same amount,” he said. “You can’t buy better placement on our site. There’s absolutely no editorial control on our part.”

Kravitz described eVoter as a content platform for candidates, one that justifies the firm’s fee. He said eVoter will buy Google ads and optimize its pages to attract voters to the site and candidates’ pages. Even though eVoter just launched in Minnesota, the site already does well in Google searches. Example: eVoter is the No. 1 result for the search “St. Cloud polling places.”

Another twist on the business model is eVoter’s partnerships with media companies. In California and Illinois, eVoter has cut deals with TV stations and newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times and TV stations owned by NBC Universal.

In essence, the media outlets partnering with eVoter have outsourced their voters guides. Instead of paying to produce time-consuming election materials for print or online, the newspapers and TV stations are earning revenue through eVoter.

The deal works like this: a TV station or newspaper places an eVoter box on its web site. The media outlet gets paid every time someone clicks through to eVoter. The media outlet also gets half the fee if a candidate clicks through to eVoter and buys a profile page.

Does the arrangement create a conflict for the newspapers and TV stations? Not surprisingly, Kravitz says, ‘No.’ He says the key is that all candidates get equal opportunity to create pages and that media outlets don’t control the content.

The idea of giving voters customized access to election information isn’t new. In Minnesota, the Secretary of State offers a service to find polling places by address. Many counties offer the same information.

But eVoter’s interface is slick and very easy to use. And if it catches on, many candidates may feel compelled to add eVoter to their list of expenses.