Jordan Giallanzo ’18 has been working as a consultant at PWC’s Strategy& since graduating from the Business School, but when George Floyd was murdered at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, he knew he had to do something. “I am a biracial man in America – it could have just as easily been my neck being crushed,” says Giallanzo. “It struck me to my core.”
Dealing with the trauma in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder, Giallanzo not only examined the roots of systemic racism in America, but began considering what he could do to fix it. “What I learned through research and many sleepless nights is that in order to exterminate systemic racism, we need new laws and policies,” says Giallanzo. “In order to get new laws and policies, we need elected officials who will prioritize them – but we don’t get those officials unless we vote.”
Struck by the lack of young people turning up to the polls for each election – in 2018, voter turnout was only 36 percent for those ages 18 to 29 – Giallanzo knew that targeting the youth vote would be an effective place to start. His solution was to create the Movement, an app that engages and empowers young voters, with the goal of increasing youth voter turnout in national and local elections. He recently launched a crowdfunding campaign and plans to launch the app this September, at the height of 2020 presidential election season. Read on for how Giallanzo made his idea a reality and how he thinks higher turnout among young voters can change the country for the best.
What do you believe is the root cause of low voter turnout among young people?
The lack of civics education is a major cause. I don’t think our education system does a sufficient job in helping people understand our government or our election system. Many of the young adults we interviewed while doing research for the app didn’t know what a district attorney is or does. And they definitely didn’t know they could vote for a district attorney. I think civics education used to be more significant, but around the time of the Vietnam War, many state governments decided to pull back on this type of education because they had concerns about raising a rebellious generation and wanted to narrow curriculums. I think the transiency of being young also adds complications to voting, as well as the fact that many young people are not yet thinking of taxes or planning for families, and don’t feel as personally impacted by laws. This causes some disenfranchisement among younger generations, along with the fact that the electoral college makes people feel like their votes don’t actually matter.
Why was an app the best way to reach young voters?
The aim of the Movement is to increase voter turnout and subsequently dismantle systemic racism. In order to understand why the app exists in its current form and why it’s being developed in such a way, it’s about understanding what current methods exist to address voter turnout. Usually, it involves someone holding a clipboard on the sidewalk trying to get you to vote for their candidate. Or it’s a social media post that gets lost in a crowded feed of Goldendoodles and brunch photos. That’s not enough, and it’s not how the younger generations, particularly Gen Z, want to be approached. You wouldn’t go on LinkedIn to post a picture of your brunch and you wouldn’t go on Instagram to look for job postings. Why would you go to either for civic engagement? Civic engagement really needs its own place, and that place is going to be the Movement. We want to activate your inner activist, so if you’re someone who cares about voting, who cares about the election, who wants to defeat systemic racism – this is your chance. Get on the app and get other people on the app, then get out and vote.
How does the Movement work?
The Movement has three pillars: information, accountability, and incentivization. The first pillar, information, is about lowering the barrier to information around voting. It’s a nightmare to figure out how to register, how to send in absentee ballots, etc. Now imagine you’re a college kid who’s moving to a different state for college and not only do you not know how to register but now your whole life is in a major period of change. We’ve created a gamified way of getting ready to vote where users will have various tasks they need to complete – like requesting and mailing in an absentee ballot – based on where they are and which election is taking place. The second pillar, accountability, starts with joining a Pact. A Pact within the app is an intimate group of friends or family, people you know, who all commit to voting and holding each other accountable. Through our research we’ve found that a lot of young people who vote do so with their friends, so we wanted to make that easier to do. In the app you’ll be able to see if your friends have registered to vote, if they’ve researched candidates, and how far along they are in the voting process. The third pillar, incentivization, is about getting people to use the app. For example, we know that Florida is a swing state, and we know that Jacksonville, Florida, has a lot of youth that aren’t registered to vote and who don’t normally show up to the polls. We want to use that data to incentivize people to join the app and get informed about voting. We can get targeted with our incentives: if a user downloads the app and is from Jacksonville, and they invite 10 people to use the app, they get a chance to win a fireside chat with Barack Obama. Imagine how powerful that could be.
How do you believe that voting can ultimately defeat systemic racism in America?
Voting at its core is an expression of our voices and our desires for the future, both individually and as a country. And what that voice yields are the laws and policies that we as a country operate under. Right now, the laws and policies we have in place are often detrimental to people of color. They are detrimental to minorities but beneficial to those in power. So unless we have new laws and policies in place, unless we have elected officials who care about defeating systemic racism and who want to institute new policies to do so, we cannot end systemic racism. The only way to defeat it is to fix the system from the inside, and that’s what voting does.
Voter suppression is a major issue in America’s electoral system. How is the Movement addressing that?
Voter suppression is 100 percent real and 100 percent happening. Some of the ways that our current systems suppress voting are by creating informational barriers and making voting extremely complicated. The Movement is going to directly address that by making information easy and intuitive. Even if there is a wall to prevent water from getting through, if there is enough water, the wall will be meaningless. It’s the same with the number of voters. If we can get enough young people engaged with the Movement and voting, attempts at voter suppression will be rendered useless.
The pandemic has introduced the added obstacle of many people needing to vote absentee – how can we overcome those additional challenges?
It’s absolutely necessary for the Movement, or for anyone in a position of influence or power, to address the risk associated with the complexities around mail-in voting and the efforts to stifle mail-in voting. We will be addressing this through our voter journey module in the app. On top of a notification on your phone, you’ll also have your friends nudging you along. Instead of trying to remember all the steps to mailing in a ballot by yourself, you’ll have a group of 10 or 15 people trying to do the same thing and going through the same hurdles.