College grads create 'Vote Saver' to cut wait time at polls for at-risk voters, essential workers

Early voting is already underway across the country and long lines have been seen in some states. Two recent college grads have hatched a rescue plan for Election Day designed to cut wait times at the polls and encourage more people to vote.

Jono Klein and Bharath Katragadda, both 23, created a website, Vote Saver, that's designed to engage volunteers who are willing to legally stand in line for a voter who is elderly, disabled, at risk for COVID-19 or is an essential worker.

People can sign up to be a space saver or have a space saved for them.

"There's a lot of controversy around the mail-in voting so a lot of people are still, despite the pandemic, wanting to go and make sure they cast that ballot in person," Katragadda said.

The duo was inspired by a class on social entrepreneurship that they took at Dartmouth College. They use a business model but remove the motive for profit.

"With the voting project and Vote Saver, no one's really going to look at that and say, 'Oh, I can make money.' But we looked at it and said, 'Oh, we can make a difference in this election,'" Klein said.

Vote Saver is gathering partners at major voting centers and has already linked up with the Los Angeles Clippers. Its base of 200,000 fans on the Clippers newsletter list will help spread the word, along with networks of students at UCLA and USC.

Voters who sign up for a space will check in at a table at the polls and then be escorted to a Vote Saver volunteer who is closest to the front of the line.

"It's completely legal. Really the only legal limitation when you're talking about voting, is that the voter has to cast their own ballot," Klein added.

The service could be especially welcome for front line workers who have multiple responsibilities.

"Like keeping grocery stores running or (people who) are in the healthcare system," Katragadda said.

Though there are many ways to vote early, they say that long lines are still likely because of many people who do not trust the mail-in process.

As for gauging success, Klein says they are hoping for just a few words: "I wouldn't have voted without Vote Saver. Thank you."

"That means we made a difference and that's all we need from this," he said.
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