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Online Tools to Help You Get from the Ballot Box and Back

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, November 2 2012

In just a few days the long presidential election campaign will be over, and — hopefully — the deciding votes cast. But Election Day will for some mean polling places changed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, voter ID laws to comply with, potentially long lines to get to the voting booth and maybe even some unfamiliar decisions to make on the ballot.

There's an entire fleet of online tools to help voters through this process, whether they're dedicated to helping report problems at polling place or to get up to speed on where to vote and what to vote on. TechPresident has been compiling a list of election-day resources. We think we got most of them but invite you to help by letting us know about any we've missed.

Here are a few of the most interesting and useful election-day initiatives to cross our radar:

My Fair Election

My Fair Election, a volunteer project led by Archon Fung, an associate professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, hopes to act as a sort of Yelp for voting. Voters can look up their polling place and then rate their experience from one to five stars. Fung says the hope is that with enough ratings, volunteers can create a "heat map" of election conditions all around the country to illustrate where voting is easy and where it is difficult. Where people report a lot of election-day problems, the reports themselves might generate pressure on election officials to bring about change.

But the site only launched about a week ago.

"The main challenge is to get the word out," Fung said.

Fung said he started the site in 2008, motivated by the issues that came up in the 2000 election and his sense that both parties were often more focused on expanding the size of their own franchise and in some cases actively discouraging people from going to the polls.

"When I first did this in 2008 I was very much hoping that this kind of thing would catch on and that bigger organizations would carry the ball forward," he said. "It's surprising that there isn't much more stuff like this right now."

My Fair Election uses the Google Civic Information API to obtain poll site information, then builds on top of that with the opportunity for voters to rate their electoral experience.

"With a lot of other projects it's just for problems," Fung said said. "My thought is that it was important to register the good as well as the bad, to tell where things were going well and people should be credited." The website is also accessible by mobile devices.

Poll Watch USA

Created during the Personal Democracy Forum hackathon earlier this summer, Poll Watch USA is a site accessible by mobile device that voters can use to look up their polling place, then, while there, indicate if there are any problems in real time.

The backers of the project, Common Cause New York, Reboot and WebSava, tested the service during the New York City primaries, when it was accessed by about 500 individuals. It has now been expanded to cover all of New York state, although Susan Lerner executive director of Common Cause/NY, indicated that the poll lookup function might not be without errors outside New York City because of difficulties getting data from state officials and possible polling location changes in part due to Hurricane Sandy.

Reports submitted via the site are mapped, and voters, members of the press or public can see how many reports were submitted for a particular polling place. Voters have the option of adding their phone number when they submit a report to get feedback, calling the voter assistance hotline being offered by Common Cause and other groups, or tweeting the report. On the backend, Common Cause will be monitoring the reports together with NYPIRG as part of the Election Protection Coalition, in real-time and for later follow-up to give feedback to election officials. The project received support from the Voting Information Project and Latino Justice.

Voting Information Project

Many projects get their data from the Voting Information Project, managed by the New Organizing Institute as part of a collaborative effort between NOI, conservative digital firm Engage, the Pew Center for the States and technology partners Google, Microsoft, Foursquare, Facebook and AT&T. VIP's goal is to make polling place and related information freely accessible, and it accomplishes this by working with election officials and secretaries of state around the country to collect, clean, sort and present that information as machine-readable, developer-friendly data feeds.

NOI also leads the Ballot Information Project, an effort to make a database of ballot information accessible all the way down to the county level. Google's Civic Information API draws on both sources, but it's important to note that both sources exist separate and apart from Google's own data empire — unlike, say, Goole Maps data, Google supports these data feeds but doesn't claim ownership.

The VIP Data is also in use by the Obama campaign, the Democratic National Committee, Mobile Commons, Foursquare, Facebook, CNN and OurVoteLive, among others. BIP data is also being used by TheBallot.org, TurboVote and MoveOn, among others.

Another tool offered by NOI is the Organizer's Guide to Election Administration, an accessible guide to election law in all 50 states and Washington D.C.

"In the past voters who were experiencing problems called in and traditionally volunteers then had to go through paper PDFs of voting regulations to look up how to solve the problem," said Evan Sutton, communications manager at NOI.

The OGEA creates an easier workflow to look up those issues, Sutton explained. It will be used by OurVoteLive, a website created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to log voting-related problems for the Election Protection Coalition with funding from craigconnects.org, and which can now accept reports online, via phone and e-mail, and by the NAACP. "If somebody in Wisconsin says I'm being asked for an I.D. but I thought I didn't need an I.D, the organizer can say, no there's an injunction against that, here's the statute you can cite," Sutton explained.

Below is our broader list of election-day resources. If you think we've missed any, feel free to email us or make your additions on this public, anyone-can-edit copy of the Google spreadsheet below. We'll pull from that spreadsheet onto this one sometime before Nov. 6, but obviously anyone can track, copy and improve the public version of this index at this link in the meantime.

News Briefs

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