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A New App to Explain Voter ID Laws

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, July 17 2012

A new online application aims to answer questions about voter eligibility by explaining what kind of identification voters need to get to the ballot in every state.

Called the Cost of Freedom App, it's the brainchild of Faye Anderson, a voting rights activist based in Philadelphia.

Anderson, a civic hacking neophyte, enlisted the help of Joseph Tricario, a software developer for Azavea, a geospatial analysis firm, to develop the app's first prototype at a Random Hacks of Kindness event in Philadelphia, Penn., and pulled in additional support at another civic hack day in Washington, D.C.

The app has new relevance because of voter identification laws going into effect in Pennsylvania this year. In March, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a law requiring voters to have a photo ID in order to cast their vote. Bloomberg recently reported that 750,000 Pennsylvanians might be denied a chance to vote because they don't have a driver's license or alternate form of identification.

"Not only is Pennsylvania now a voter ID state, we have become ground zero for the voter suppression and voter ID scheme," Anderson said.

The focus of the application, she said, is to help people navigate their Voter ID status, find out how to get a valid ID if necessary and to combat misinformation. Anderson received additional development help from a Google employee who attended a Voting Information Project hackathon in April and from Jack Aboutboul of Twilio, who also worked with Anderson to create a text-message based information service about voter ID laws.

Anderson tried to raise money for the project on a crowdfunding site, but didn't reach her fundraising goals. As a result, Anderson compiled the data for the project mainly on her own, without being able to hire any help.

Before Anderson attended her first hackathon at the Random Hacks of Kindness event, she said, she thought the events had something to do with "bad guys who were breaking into websites."

The experience has opened her eyes to the possibilities of working with developers, and she now considers herself a "hackathon junkie."

"We should bring every issue to a hackathon," she said. "Their way of looking at the world is refreshing. I'm tired of these groups issuing reports. Reports don't help anybody."