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Democrats Launch Open-Source Voter Registration Form Tool

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, September 4 2012

The Democratic National Committee released an open-source online voter registration application form over the weekend, as was first reported by Ryan Singel from Wired. One of the first other sites to reuse the code was the Obama campaign, which created an embeddable form on its website based on the code.

The code for the DNC's tool, built using Ruby on Rails, is available on Github. The Github site notes that the code includes state-specific election and voting information, and that this information should not be altered — but someone copying the code certainly could alter it in their version, accidentally or on purpose, as is true for any open-source project.

Using the form, prospective voters can fill out the National Voter Registration form online and then mail it in to their state election office, and look up state-specific guidelines. Singel notes that the Obama campaign's version of the form is subject to the Obama campaign's privacy policy, with some of the data entered through the Obama website likely shared with the campaign. Filling in that form prompts an e-mail from Michelle Obama urging the prospective voter to mail in the form.

At least for New York, the tool does not yet seem to indicate to the prospective voter that the state also now offers online registration via the DMV.

The DNC's tool appears to work identically to TurboVote, which also uses the National Voter Registration Form, allows users to fill it in online, and then mail it to the state office. (TurboVote users can also pay a small fee to have their pre-printed forms mailed to them, so they can sign them and then mail them out in a provided envelope.)

The U.S. Vote Foundation, which launched earlier this year to offer the Overseas Vote Foundation's tools to domestic voters, uses state-specific forms.

"Other voter registration tools and sites do exist, utilizing the National Voter Registration Form. These submissions are sent to one state office, which is then responsible for relaying the forms to local election offices," U.S. Vote says on its website. "Processing delays can occur due to information distribution time between locations. US Vote’s one-stop, customized online wizard helps voters to submit each state’s preferred voter registration form and offers direct contact information to local election offices."

It's unclear if the Democratic National Committee will continue to support the source code, which includes information about where to send registration forms and matches users to states, after this election cycle. We've been in touch with the DNC for this story but they haven't responded to follow-up questions as this post goes live. We'll update the post if/when they do.

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