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Nonprofit Long Distance Voter Helped Provide Data for Google Voting Search Feature

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, October 10 2014

For its new voting information search feature, or one-box, Google got some assistance from the nonprofit Long Distance Voter, which is dedicated to helping with absentee ballot requests. Specifically, Google licensed data from the organization to provide a service that offers voting and registration information for all 50 states. Whenever a Google user searches "how do I vote," "register to vote" or "voter registration," a neat box appears with answers to those questions for the person's particular state. As Nancy Scola noted in the Washington Post, Google has launched similar location-aware applications that responds to searches using terms like "voter ID" and "voter ID requirements." That data comes from the Voting Information Project, with which Google has long been a partner.

The registration one-box offers details on who can register, voting by mail, key dates and checking registration status, for example.

Debra Cleaver, founder and executive director of Long Distance Voter, said the non-profit was chosen as a data provider for "its reputation for being able to write complicated voting requirements in plain and casual English."

The project involved working with a "very massive spreadsheet" of the various voting and registration requirements across the states, she said in an interview. "We had six different people with three of us doing the bulk of the content generation and another team of people that were literally fact-checking, cross-checking and calling Secretaries of State," she said, and then cleaning and shaping the data into the correct format for Google's one-boxes.

"At Long Distance Voter we focus primarily on voting by mail," said Cleaver, "so for this project we went a lot deeper into how to register to vote and how to get your absentee ballot if you're an overseas person." She added, "Presenting that array of information in plain language for 50 states and the District of Columbia was a lot of work...it was an awesome project though."

Cleaver also gave credit to Google for its innovative projects. "This shows a real commitment on Google's part to civic engagement...to pull together all of this information in a very accessible way to people across the United States," she said. Though she emphasized that other groups have offered similar sites, she noted that with Google, "the fact that this is right there on the search results page. You don't need to go anywhere else and it is neatly and cleanly summarized."

As Google noted in its blog post, it has also been continuing to offer insights from its Google Trends analysis, illustrating for example the increase in search interest for North Carolina Senate candidates Thom Thillis and Kay Hagan after their debate, as well as the search interest for candidates Alison Grimes and Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

Those are not the only sites that are stepping up their voter engagement efforts. Rock The Vote has released a get-out-the vote music video parody featuring Lena Dunham, Whoopi Goldberg, Lil John and Fred Armisen, among others.

The U.S. Vote Foundation, Verified Voting, Rock the Vote and Common Cause recently partnered to offer a Can I Vote Absentee widget for websites.

In addition, the U.S. Vote Foundation has partnered with Factcheck.org to integrate non-partisan news content as part of its voter account tool, the first implementation of a new Factcheck.org API.