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: High-stakes election spending, guns at the polls and a Twitter exodus. Is this crowd-sourced app what voters want instead?

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Given the record amount of money spent this midterm election season, mostly by political heavyweights, and with very real fears that any outcome of Tuesday’s tally would be protested, even with violence, is it any wonder many would-be voters feel left out entirely?

That’s a pain point that tech-minded entrepreneurs, and a board with members from both political parties and independents, think they might solve by crowdsourcing ideas for issues and candidates.

MainStream Nation has developed a new app for Americans active in the political process — and those newly disenfranchised — who want to see their own interests and narratives better reflected in the national media, its creators say. That goes especially for what’s soon to be a look to the 2024 presidential race.

As of Wednesday morning, early counts revealed Republicans came up short with the major red wave their side had predicted. Key races for both the Senate and House remained too close to call.

Voter turnout also proved impressive by some counts. Midterm turnout reached a 40-year high in 2018 at 49% of the total voting-age population. Early voting totals suggest that number could be even higher in 2022, and younger voters were notable participants.

See MarketWatch’s midterm election coverage.

The Mainstream Nation app, which is aimed at registered voters, is a way to gin up a widespread discussion on candidates and issues. From there, the developers want more of the topics that respondents say do matter, and the people who might take action on those issues, featured on its streaming channel. (Read more on who is advising MainStream Nation.)

“Using technology that governments and Fortune 500 companies use to crowdsource ideas for new products, we’re excited to release our app for registered voters to post and rate their own candidates, issues and solutions to be featured in new streaming TV shows,” said MainStream Nation co-founder Marinda Ragsdale.

With the impact of social media, deeply partisan cable news, an increasing number of celebrity candidates and information overload, Ragsdale thinks it’s becoming more obvious that entertainment and politics aren’t so different. And while she’s as serious about democracy as the next voter, she thinks getting more voices heard could benefit from an “entertainment” aspect to the election process.

To that end, MainStream is developing a competition show for presidential candidates that it’s calling “President-Elect.”

“Politics and entertainment are already interacting. Late-night appearances by candidates, podcasts, even on social media, and you could call all of that entertainment,” she said. “We just looked at the overall landscape and we thought: Create a national show by the people.”

For any candidate or issue to eventually make its way to an official ballot will require adhering to the formal election process set by the Federal Election Commission, Ragsdale said in an interview. But it’s the very beginning of the process, a return to a “for the people, by the people” mindset, and the need to supply candidates with the financial stamina to keep pace with big interests, that motivated the creation of the app and the show.

A record $16 billion is projected to be spent on the 2022 midterms by special-interest groups and other backers of candidates and ballot issues.

What’s more, the trend of radical, even threatening responses to election processes in the wake of the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is leaving some voters wondering how free the traditional process is.

A couple in Mesa, Ariz., for instance, was dropping off their ballots on Oct. 21 for the forthcoming midterm election when they saw two people carrying guns and dressed in tactical gear hanging around the Maricopa County drop box. The armed pair left when police officers later arrived. And it wasn’t an isolated incident, as this MarketWatch columnist writes.

The MainStream app’s users are verified as voters through a partnership with ActiVote, an existing app that features important issues, polling places, connections to elected officials and key poll questions. ActiVote Chief Operating Officer Sara Gifford said “we’re pleased to be a part of the launch and MainStream Nation’s vision to help voters have a clearer, more direct influence in political media.”

“We don’t want the issues we’re seeing on Facebook, Twitter. I don’t think that’s constructive,” Ragsdale said on a call with MarketWatch.

In fact, Twitter, newly taken over by Tesla
TSLA,
-1.56%

CEO Elon Musk, has been undergoing a top-to-bottom corporate change that’s led to some abandoning the platform. In recent days, there’s been an about-face about the blue-checkmark verification system by its new owner, who critics say has had an interesting take on “free speech” in his early days at the helm.

Read: Kathy Griffin kicked off Twitter as ‘free-speech absolutist’ Elon Musk cracks down on parody accounts targeting him

Asked how MainStream would handle the scope of policy and topics, and in determining what language might be shared, Ragsdale said they will have to look at how to minimize blatant hate speech or calls to violence, but she added, “We’re not trying to control the process. Everyone has a fair shot to have their wants and needs heard.”

As for the competition show, some of the working themes for “President-Elect” include: Why can’t presidents take a competency test? Why can’t they take a lie-detector test? Another sets up a “Situation Room” to test a candidate’s ability to handle a white-knuckle security issue.

As Jim Ragsdale, MainStream Nation’s co-founder and CEO, explained in an op-ed, “Voters use our app to ‘nominate’ the candidates they want to see compete in real-world challenges based on the issues most important to them, and vote one contestant off the show each episode until they have a winner.”

Users of the MainStream Nation app verify as registered voters and then post their ideas for candidates or solutions to their top issues. Those approved can also give other users’ posts a 1- to 5-star rating, and the highest-rated posts become the source of contestants and content for the show and its challenges. Anyone can view the content on the platform, but only users who verify as registered voters are allowed to submit and rate posts.

“Our users post anonymously and all comments on their posts are disabled.  We didn’t want them to fear being canceled or trolled for speaking their minds, so they post and rate just like they cast their votes at the ballot box,” said Ragsdale.

And while a winner running a full-fledged traditional campaign would still have to generate fundraising help, the app and show creators believe this head start and media boost will go a long way.

Is there a risk that the winning contestant from the show be just another spoiler candidate that makes the election process as muddied as it is currently?

Ragsdale explained that “without reforms like ranked choice voting in place, the spoiler issue remains a concern.” But that, too, is up to the voters, he said.

“At what point do the majority of voters decide that it is the candidates they don’t support that are the real spoilers?” he said. “Also, if they really want reforms like these in our elections, what better way to make them a national priority than to make them top-rated issues on the show?”

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