A Publication of WTVP

‘Democracy needs a shot in the arm’

by Bob Grimson | Photos by Ron Johnson |
Democracy needs a shot

And Bradley graduate Jonathon Braun is looking to provide it with his Perikles voter information app

A first-time voter in 2016, Jonathon Braun admits he really didn’t know anything about races other than presidential when he went to the polls. Because of that, “I really didn’t want to ever vote again.”

In 2018, Braun decided to change that. He and a friend, a new U.S. citizen, researched every person and question on the midterm ballot.

“That took an entire day and we couldn’t get all the information we wanted,” said Braun, a 2020 graduate of Bradley University with a degree in computer systems.

Enter Perikles.

‘I want the average person, no matter where you are, to feel comfortable voting’ — Jonathon Braun

Named for the ancient Greek statesman and military leader who supported democracy in Athens, Braun’s nascent voting app aims to give voters easily accessible, accurate information about those lesser-known candidates and races, including referendums and ballot initiatives.

Initially focusing on student voters at area universities such as Bradley, Illinois State and Western Illinois, the nonpartisan Perikles uses background, qualification and policy information from credible sources, which are personally vetted by Braun to ensure they aren’t out of context. This helps get the word out about judicial and minor-party candidates where information may be limited.

It’s the focus on down-ballot races that appealed to Tyler Hodges, a Chicago tax accountant and childhood friend of Braun. The pair reconnected while at Bradley. 

“These races are important but often overlooked,” Hodges said. “I think (this information) has more dramatic effects at the local level than the federal level.”

Hodges, a member of the Perikles board, also sees the app as a way to make voting more accessible and understandable for younger voters and students.

Candidates can link off the app, which is available for free download on both Apple and Android platforms.

The recent midterm election cycle “went better than I expected. I got a lot of support from politicians. It was very bipartisan,” said Braun, who specifically mentioned the participation of local legislators Dave Koehler and Travis Weaver.

While his 2022 election coverage spanned five counties — Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Knox and Fulton — polling place information policies by Google Civic API will limit Perikles’ use in the spring local elections in central Illinois. Despite this snag, Braun hopes to stretch east, to Bloomington-Normal and Champaign-Urbana, to take advantage of the large student populations. Then, hopefully, comes statewide availability.

Braun has spoken with the state Board of Elections and county clerks or voting commissions in all 102 counties.

The app also can provide information about polling place changes, nearby political events, or candidate position switches. Users can mark their preferred candidates for future reference.

The app’s one absolute rule is no muckraking. Braun said the focus is on the candidate’s plans, not opponent bashing. He also keeps his personal political beliefs off the app. “That’s what I want to shine a light on, who has the ideas. It’s up to the people, in a democracy, to decide what’s good and what’s bad. None of it is my opinion, ever.”

Braun set up Perikles as an educational nonprofit to work with schools and governments. He was the first nonprofit to graduate from the gBETA program for local entrepreneurs and startups seeking attention and backing for their ideas. 

Each of his board’s eight members “has a different expertise,” said Braun, who’s looking at working with a Washington D.C.-based group for innovators. He’s been urged to connect with the nationwide Rock the Vote campaign. “Know Your Vote” is Perikles’ tagline, and the national organization doesn’t provide a resource like Perikles, said Braun. While voter registration efforts are valuable, “you have to tell them (voters) what they’re voting on,” he said.

Becky Mills was one of Braun’s professors at Bradley. She supported the idea from the start and introduced him to mentors such as Brad McMillan of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service.  

“As a young entrepreneur, I wanted him to succeed,” said Mills, a member of Perikles’ board and now senior vice president/director of marketing and customer experience at Heartland Bank & Trust Company. The app provides the “information needed to make solid decisions.” 

Perikles has attracted attention in other states. Braun said a California-based judge at Bradley’s annual Big Idea Competition remembered his presentation and tracked him down for a podcast.

Braun said colleges and universities are still his best resource, as administrators look to serve students who may be registered to vote locally. “If (students) have the ability to vote here, they want them to vote here,” he said.

This is especially valid for student-athletes. Braun, whose mother is a longtime administrative assistant in Bradley’s athletics department, said he received encouragement from men’s head basketball coach Brian Wardle, among others. While in beta testing, Braun met with Bradley’s players.

“I’d just talked to the (men’s) basketball team and then volleyball players heard about it, talked to their coach, and then I’m talking to the entire volleyball team. This thing spreads so easily when people talk about it.”

With a full-time job at a local marketing company and a part-time one at Jimmy’s Bar on Farmington Road, Braun wants Perikles to eventually become his occupation.

“I’ve always had a vision in my head. I want the average person, no matter where you are, to feel comfortable voting. Democracy needs a shot in the arm. This is my solution to that.”

Bob Grimson

Bob Grimson

is a longtime journalist. He also is quite active in Peoria area community theater