June 16, 2024

Thrive Insider

Exclusive stories of successful entrepreneurs

Lulu Friesdat’s SMART Nonprofit

(Video of this interview)

Lulu’s friend Julia Dakin sat down and asked her some questions she’s always wondered about. The result was a fascinating and fun interview. 

Lulu’s bio. 

SMART Elections is the nonprofit she co-founded and runs.


Julia: So, how did you get interested in elections and democracy? 

Lulu: Woo! I got interested in elections and democracy, I would say, because of my mom, pretty much, for sure. My mom was just one of those super activists who is way ahead of her time.

She was, like, organizing recycling on her block, I think, maybe in the 80s — when people hadn’t even heard of recycling yet and she was trudging around with these huge green bins from neighbor to neighbor. She was just really into democracy and the process. She would register people to vote and then she would go back and check with them and make sure they were going to vote. And she gave me the bug. 

Julia: So was there a watershed moment for you in your work?   

Lulu: The moment that I really remember is this moment in 2007, when I went to Princeton and filmed these two grad students. It was J. Alex Halderman and Ari Feldman. Alex Halderman is like a world famous hacker now, but at the time he was a grad student in Princeton, and they had gotten ahold of this voting machine, and they had hacked it. And I went out there with my camera, I was making a documentary. And I filmed the whole thing and we all voted on the machine and then they printed out the results and the results were different than the candidate that we had voted for.

And I just remember like my stomach kind of tying up in knots and the floor falling out from under me. And I remember thinking, what if this is happening? What if the voting machines aren’t counting correctly? And it really changed everything for me. 

Julia: Wow. That’s really interesting. So why do you care about this so much? 

Lulu: People ask me why I care about this stuff and I’m like, how can you not care? I’m obsessed with it. I don’t know if people understand that all of the things in our world that are driving us crazy, whether that’s climate change or taxes everything that is happening around us in our world, at its core — those decisions are being made by people voting and people are voting on voting machines and it is at the core of everything that is happening. And the question is, is it working correctly?

In my opinion, our elections are not working correctly. And so I really passionately want to improve them.  

Julia: So do you think that this issue matters to kids? 

Lulu: I think that kids care about these issues actually more than adults in some ways. When you see kids who are like running around their parents homes unplugging their appliances because they’re worried about climate change,  or they’re frightened about their safety. Kids passionately care and they know that they’re being left a country with a lot of problems, and they want to know how to address them. Kids do care about democracy, passionately.  

Julia: How do you deal with all the controversy around hacking? 

Lulu: I think what’s important is to be even handed and to try to be nonpartisan. I  co-founded SMART elections as a nonpartisan nonprofit to really address the issues in a way that is fair. Even organizations that say they’re nonpartisan, often you can tell that they have a political bias. We really try hard to be very even handed and I think really that’s the center of it.