30,000 people have made use of Smartvote, since it’s launch last Wednesday, the 13th of January, according to a presentation given at tonight’s Student Union Council. Two USI representatives came before the council to encourage students to ‘Make a SmartVote’: Vice President for Academic Affairs and Quality Assurance Jack Leahy and Vice President for Equality and Citizenship Annie Hoey.
The site matches voters preferences with individual candidates in their selected constituency,through asking the user a series of thirty questions based on different policy areas. The questions are based on the USI student manifesto, and is aimed primarily at first-time voters looking to get an insight into the varying agendas of running candidates.
Speaking to the council, Leahy encouraged students to use the site as a jumping-off point for researching candidates, The easily-accessible interface is designed to encourage students and citizens alike, not just the “politically incentivised”, to get involved and educate themselves prior to the upcoming election.
SU welfare officer, Conor Clancy, agreed with Leahy’s comments, describing Smartvote as as “pivotal point in how students vote” going in to the future.
The questions are answered through an ordinal scale of seven buttons, running from ‘thumbs down’ or fully disagree up to a ‘thumbs up’ or fully agree, with an option to remain neutral. Candidates are then ranked based on how well they correlate with the user’s answers. The policy areas covered a broad range: education, healthcare, housing, immigration and taxation along with others.
One member of council, Paraic McLean raised the point that while using the web-page, he found many candidates had selected the neutral option for more controversial policies, making it difficult to discern what their position was on the topic. Hoey responded stating that the USI “sent [the questions] out to each candidate” who were given until the 8th of January to respond. Candidates are free to modify their answers at any point, and the USI notified each candidate of their ability to do so, but it is ultimately left to their own discretion.
Smartvote was founded by Keith Moore as part of UCD’s Innovation Academy, and was piloted in UCD’s student elections and then in the Kilkenny-Carlow by-elections, drawing 2,000 and 4,000 users respectively. In an article on USI’s webpage, President Kevin Donaghue described SmartVote as ‘revolutionary’ :”It’s quick, simple, easy-to-use and will educate the public on who their political candidates are, what they stand for and why they’re worthy of their vote.”