PROVIDENCE – As a frequent candidate for Congress and Providence mayor over nearly two decades, Christopher Young was known for being unpredictable.
Who could forget the time he attempted to bring a Virgin Mary statue on stage during a debate? Or the time he was dragged out of a Brown University health care forum while protesting abortion? And, of course, there was the time he asked his girlfriend to marry him on live television during another debate.
When Young died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 51 in February, he left behind his wife, Kara, their young daughter, and undoubtedly several more political campaigns.
He also left behind a something that no one could have predicted would suddenly become so valuable: his campaign website, wheretovote.com.
The domain, which his wife now owns, used to redirect users to Young’s Facebook page, and is now broken. But in a year where the coronavirus pandemic has created so much uncertainty around voting in next month’s election, political strategists say it’s a shame that a website that could have been used for a good cause – like encouraging people to vote – is blank. And they say a sale of the domain could have fetched a small fortune from advocacy groups or even candidates for office.
“It’s common practice to direct multiple sites like this one to a voter information platform,” said Michael Halle, a former senior advisor to Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. “It would be great to have this one in the arsenal.”
Unlike the conventional candidate who purchases a campaign website with his or her name in the URL – current Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza uses ElorzaforMayor.com, for example – Young created wheretovote.com on March, 6, 2002, according to domain records. He ran for Providence mayor for the first time that year.
Young initially used the URL to redirect to a GeoCities website that included campaign positions on issues like crime, taxes, education, and affordable housing. In 2006, when he attempted to run for US Senate, lieutenant governor, and mayor all at the same time, the website included an American flag background and the slogan, “Campaign for Justice.” In more recent years, he used his campaign website to advocate for taxing Brown University and posted pictures of his wife and daughter.
Young, who described himself as an electrical engineer and media consultant, remained a fierce anti-abortion advocate right up to his death. He died while driving home from the State House after testifying on a fetal heartbeat bill.
As a candidate, he struggled to gain traction among voters. While he ran for at least one office in every election cycle between 2000 and 2018, he never won more than 32.4 percent of the vote, reaching that peak in 2016 during a campaign for Congress.
But Kara Young, his wife, said Chris “chose wheretovote for his campaign website name strategically, realizing that it would help garner a lot of hits to the site, and he also wanted to give people a place to go to find their polling location.”
Kara Young said the website isn’t for sale, but those who have worked in politics say it could be worth tens of thousands of dollars.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if someone paid $20,000 for that website,” said Brian Jencunas, a Massachusetts-based political consultant who has also worked on campaigns in Rhode Island.
If he owned the website, Jencunas said he’d use it to drive traffic from digital ads to infrequent voters, and then follow up with those engaged with the website to encourage them to vote.
While voters can find info about where they’re supposed to vote from their local elections board, those sites aren’t always as well-known as those like vote.org, and election boards don’t have the same reach as organizations like Rock the Vote. In a year where the coronavirus has forced communities to consolidate polling places, a website like wheretovote would be ideal.
“URLs are less valuable now that most people use Google to find information online,” Jencunas said. “However, the instant credibility of WhereToVote.com is extremely valuable, especially for reaching less engaged voters who don’t understand how voting has changed due to coronavirus.”
For now, Kara Young said she intends to hold on to the website.
“I am waiting for God to show me what to do with it,” she said.