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Only 13 percent of Baltimore's registered voters went to the polls in the 2011 general election. (The Daily Record/Rich Dennison)

Groove CEO launches drive to boost Baltimore vote

Only 23 percent of Baltimore’s registered voters went to the polls in the last mayoral primary in 2011, the lowest in the city’s history. A local CEO does not want that to happen again.

On Tuesday, Ethan Giffin, CEO of the Baltimore-based digital marketing firm Groove, launched BMoreVot.es, an initiative to encourage businesses to make it easier for employees to go to the polls on Election Day.

“I think this is one of the most important elections for the next generation of Baltimore,” said Giffin in a phone interview on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of extremely creative, smart young leaders who are coming to work here in the city. It would be a shame for these people to not have their voices heard.”

Giffin moved to Baltimore in 1999 and didn’t register to vote until he bought a house seven years later. After talking to people who live and work in the city, Giffin found many had similar stories.

Giffin also found that many people don’t know how to register to vote and don’t know the deadlines and other specific voting laws in the city. For example, many people don’t know that Baltimore has closed primaries, meaning registered Democrats can only vote in Democratic primaries and the same for the Republicans. That system leaves out the city’s growing number of registered Independents.

The initiative is also about getting people to vote where they live and work. Eighty percent of Giffin’s staff lives in Baltimore.

“As a society, we are not voting the way we should,” he said. “A few hundred votes can sway the election one way or the other.”

About 13 percent of the city’s registered voters cast their ballots in the 2011 general election in which Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, with 84 percent of the vote, won a landslide victory over Alfred Griffin.

The education process will be bipartisan, Giffin said. BmoreVot.es will not endorse any candidates or have any political affiliations.

“We don’t care who you vote for, you just have to vote,” said Giffin.

BmoreVot.es is in the process of enlisting other companies to join its effort. Greg Cangialosi, chairman and co-founder of Betamore, co-chair of the Baltimore Angels and the CEO of MissionTix, has already joined BmoreVot.es’ efforts.

“Baltimore is a vibrant city with creative, energetic people who care about its future,” Cangialosi said in a statement. “We want to use this creative energy to select elected officials who will help our city reach its full potential.”

Giffin hopes a few dozen companies will get on board to start the education process.

“I feel like we’ve got a great game plan but one that will evolve as more people sign on,” said Giffin.

Along with increasing voter registration among Baltimore start-ups, Giffin wants to hold an open house for mayoral candidates to talk to people in the technology and start-up worlds.

“Mayor (Rawlings)-Blake has really done a great job to reach out and meet people in that industry and open those conversations, when traditionally they weren’t acknowledged,” said Giffin.