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A ‘Buddy’ for the Ballot Box

Alum’s Site Takes Guesswork Out of Voting With Quick Questionnaire

By Karen Shih ’09

Two people link arms with "VOTE 4 ME" button

An alum's new website, Voting Buddy, can help you find likeminded House and Senate candidates—out of the more than 1,300 running—based on a short questionnaire and your state and ZIP code.

Illustration by iStock

If you haven’t had time to research congressional candidates for Election Day, don’t panic. A new website created by a University of Maryland alum can help you figure out who best aligns with your political beliefs in under 10 minutes.

Voting Buddy, launched in mid-October by Dwight Williams Ph.D. ’05, takes you through a brief questionnaire, then matches you with likeminded House and Senate candidates based on your state and ZIP code.

“Voting is one of the most important things a person can do,” said Williams. “The site is meant to be easy and objective. It takes the homework out of the way for people who don’t have the interest or bandwidth to do all the research that goes into making an informed vote.”

The site includes the more than 1,300 candidates running for Congress, pulling data from publicly available campaign sites, statements and votes to develop an estimate of where politicians stand on national security and foreign policy; fiscal policy and social welfare; social policy; corporate regulatory policy and environmental resources.

“Voting Buddy is an extension of how I go about picking candidates—it’s inside my brain, if you will,” he said. Over the last decade, he’s talked to friends about his methodology. “They were like, ‘You’ve got to create a computer program so others can benefit.’”

But it wasn’t until Williams, a nuclear engineer by day, received a stage 2 lung cancer diagnosis and had surgery to remove a tumor over the summer that he had time to pursue the project.

“I was on serious bedrest and had nothing to do. And I had access to high school and college students,” mostly friends of the family, who were looking for summer projects, he said. He hired 15 to 20 students to help him with everything from coding to developing questions to scrubbing candidate sites.

Since its launch, Voting Buddy has averaged about 1,000 users a day, and has garnered media attention in the leadup to the election. Williams has even received feedback from candidates across the political spectrum, confirming that the site accurately reflects their positions. Those politicians’ profiles are “verified,” giving voters increased confidence in their match.

As he looks toward the 2024 presidential election cycle, Williams envisions the site being particularly useful during primary season, when voters don’t have the shorthand of “D” or “R” to help make a choice at the ballot box. He’d also like to expand into gubernatorial and state legislature races; create a more in-depth version of the survey, delving into the specifics of foreign, fiscal and social policy to create more accurate comparisons with politicians; and allow users to compare their results with each other.

“My 16-year-old son says he would like to compare himself to celebrities!” Williams said with a laugh.



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