With the 2016 elections a little more than a year away, 18 Million Rising, an East Bay-based Asian American Pacific Islander digital advocacy group, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to back VoterVOX, an app designed to connect multilingual volunteers with voters who need help translating their ballots.
Launched in August, 18MR.org’s crowdfunding campaign aims to raise $50,000 to help develop the app and release a finished version by January of 2016. In essence, VoterVOX helps community organizations and users connect translators with citizens to help them with their mail-in ballots, after which the volunteers can upload their translations for others to use.
Cayden Mak, the chief technology officer for 18MR.org, said in an interview that, in a sense, VoterVOX builds on the type of grassroots education that has been happening in Asian-American communities for generations — English-speaking community members often help translate materials for their older relatives who may not know the language.
By facilitating community building, Mak said the app could be an important tool for community organizations and other groups who may not have the funding or resources for outreach.
“One of the things that we know is that the Asian-American community faces unique challenges in terms of language access, partly because we speak so many different languages,” Mak said. “A lot of community organizations provide language support — we’re using this app as a way to amplify and reframe some of the work they already do.”
According to a Pew Research report released in 2013, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States, making up the largest share of recent immigrants — but as Mak pointed out, Asian-American voter turnout lags far behind other racial groups. The organization sees VoterVOX as a way to prevent voter disenfranchisement and dissipate the self-consciousness symptomatic of not being able to understand voting materials.
Mak said that 18MR.org works with more than eighty community organizations, though the partners for the app in particular have not been finalized. The organization hopes to have a soft prototype of the app ready by November, with a soft launch proposed for March. Mak said that much of the user research to test the app would happen in Oakland.
“These are young communities who need increasing support to have their voices heard,” said Mak. “We need to be looking at expanding the tools in the toolbox.”