Thursday, May 28, 2015

Voting Hacks Part 3: Examples of Civic Hacks For Better Voting

This post is a sampling of some of the civic hacks that have been created to improve the government-related voting process, primarily in the US.

I tried to find a list of currently active and widely used civic hacks for better voting, so that participants in the DHMN Civic Hackathon/Appleton 2015 could use that list as a starting point if they want to work on some aspect of the voting process. I was unable to find such a list, but Nicko Margolies from the Sunlight Foundation sent me links to several of the projects below. Apologies for this blog post -- consider it a first draft. I'm on pain medication and antibiotics, and my brain seems to be on vacation right now. I'll update this post in a couple days to correct errors and maybe add a few more voting hacks.

The Knight Foundation had a recent Knight News Challenge highly relevant to improved voting. The Challenge question was: "How might we better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections?" It is highly likely a couple high-quality civic hacks will come out of the $3 million dollars in grants that the Knight Foundation will award in June 2015 for people to improve the voting process. 1010 entries were submitted to this Challenge and 45 of them made it to Finalist status. Check out the website if you're interested in this, and consider learning more about grant programs from the Knight Foundation, an organization which believes that "democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged."

Voting Information Project
The Voting Information Project (VIP) is a long-running collaborative open source effort to help citizens see where to vote and what’s on their ballots. As such, it is something civic hackers who want to work on voting issues should learn more about before they design and start building the hack. If you're a coder, you should check out the VIP GitHub page. There have even been hackathons dedicated to working on VIP, such as the San Francisco Voting Information Project Hackathon and the Pew Voting Information Project Hackathon.

TurboVote is a project to get citizens registered to vote, track rule changes and election deadlines. To find out more about the project, read the post "OpenGov Voices: How TurboVote is Shaping the Future of Voting," written by Kathryn Peters, cofounder of TurboVote.. TurboVote had enough success and was seen as having a bright enough future that the Knight Foundation gave it a $1 million grant, the purpose of which was to help increase citizen participation in elections through new technology and outreach, while enabling TurboVote to develop a sustainable funding model.

"Launched by the League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF) in October of 2006, is a "one-stop-shop" for election related information. It provides nonpartisan information to the public with both general and state-specific information on [many] aspects of the election process. An important component of is the polling place locator, which enables users to type in their address and retrieve the poll location for the voting precinct in which that address is located. The League has found that this is among the most sought after information in the immediate days leading up to, and on, Election Day."

Voter's Edge
"Voter’s Edge is your one stop for the 2014 election. Our website provides nonpartisan voter information for US elections. We make it simple for you to see a customized view of who and what is on your ballot, which we generate based on your address." I couldn't find anything that discussed whether Voter's Edge was a one time effort for the 2014 elections or whether they expected to update their database for future elections.

Philly Vote Check
Social Vote
The blog post "7 Code for Philly ‘DemHack’ apps that could inspire civic engagement" talks about how the Philly Vote Check and Social Vote civic hacks came to be. The Philly Vote Check webpage also gives a bit more info about the project, which is "designed to help voters identify and locate their polling place based on their district, ward and/or address."

Election Protection
"The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition was formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Throughout the election process, our volunteers will be entering data and information into Our Vote Live, an interactive environment painting the most comprehensive picture of election irregularities from the perspective of the voter available anywhere. Unique in the excitement of this political season, Election Protection focuses on the voter - not on the political horse race - and provides guidance, information and help to any American, regardless of who that voter is casting a ballot for." The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights created an Election Protection smartphone app which might be worth looking at if we want to make an Appleton voting app. Many of the other voting civic hacks also have smartphone apps.

Keep Calm And Vote On
Keep Calm and Vote On is an example of relatively simple civic hacks that could be done for new voting issues that come up. The real challenge to the usefulness of a hack like Keep Calm and Vote On would be publicizing the website so people knew where to go for that information. To make this type of a civic hack worthwhile, people need to be working on marketing and promoting the app to the voting-age citizens for whom the information is intended. If almost nobody looks at a website like this, it probably wasn't worth the time and effort to build it.

Vote ATX
This is a map-based voting hack; if you're interest in something like that, check out the Vote ATX GitHub page.

I'll wrap up this post with the article "Hack the vote: how open data is giving elections back to the voters." The article gave this look at how open data in elections was having a big impact.
"In Argentina, in October last year, Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires with political analyst Andy Tow set up this site, which brought together official data from the provisional counts and candidate details. In addition, a university project provided biographical information and the policy platforms of each presidential ticket. They then incorporated census socio-economic data too. The team of 30 hackers began work the day before the election and carried on through. They used the best free tools available to create something dyadic and interesting: Google Fusion Tables, Google Maps, and vector graphics libraries. The data itself can be used to compare previous election results too and was merged with demographic data. They became the official source of information: maps from the project were used by media platforms during the elections and afterwards."
If you're interested in civic hacks for better voting, show up at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA, for the June 6th civic hackathon. You can work with other like-minded people to create or modify a civic hack to improve the voting process in northeast Wisconsin. If you didn't already sign up to participate, do it TODAY!

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