Data Sheet—Sunday, October 23, 2016

October 23, 2016, 8:31 PM UTC

As the U.S. presidential election approaches, one category of startups is gaining increasing visibility: Voting-related apps.

Recently a flurry of startups and non-profits have cropped up to help make registration easier for voters and provide them with information about candidates and ballot measures. There’s Brigade, a company co-founded by Sean Parker; VotePlz, co-founded by Sam Altman, president of startup accelerator Y Combinator;, previously known as Long Distance Voter; and Voter, which matches users with political candidates that match their stances on issues.

And those are just a few examples. But why is the tech industry suddenly taken with civic engagement after years of building copycat photo apps and shiny gadgets that connect to our smartphones for no obvious reason?

According to Matt Mahan, Brigade’s CEO, it’s in part because the tech industry has, by now, built pretty good ways to share photos, so it’s now taking on more complex challenges like transportation, financial services, and political participation.

And there’s of course all the excitement during a presidential election cycle. “The presidential race is the Olympics of politics,” Mahan told Fortune. “Everyone wants to do something tied to that massive event.”

But whatever the motivation, Mahan thinks it’s a good thing that many people, especially in the tech industry, are working on voter registration and participation. And their efforts seem to be paying off. For example, Brigade’s users have now sent more than 630,000 personal invitations to friends to encourage them to vote on specific issues, and VotePlz has registered more than 75,000 voters and helped 200,000 voters check their registration status.

The next challenge for these startups will be to stick it out for the long term—civic engagement doesn’t end with next month’s presidential election. “This is not a two, or four, or six-year thing,” says Mahan.

The good news, however, is that someday we’ll be fully interacting with elected officials and government digitally when it comes to voting or communicating with those officials representing us, he believes. Now that’s a cause I can get behind.

Kia Kokalitcheva


This is the Startup Sunday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter, edited by reporter Kia Kokalitcheva. You may reach me via Twitter, email, or an entirely new platform that your startup developed. Feedback welcome.

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