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Culture

Turbo-charged and transparent

Kathryn Peters
Bringing the immediacy and convenience of the web to disengaged US voters

I love elections. They’re moments when voters get to be in charge, weigh in on issues of the day, and utilize the most fundamental notion of democratic fairness: assigning one vote to one voice. Plus – in the US, at least – there are those lovely “I voted!” stickers.

On May 7th, voters across the United Kingdom will go to their local polling stations to determine the 56th Parliament. For voters, it should be as easy as signing up with the UK online voter registration system and finding a time to vote (ed note: at VoteHack in London recently, one of the teams built a simple calendar reminder to get people to commit to a specific time).

But the reality is rarely that simple. The internet has brought more goods and services to our fingertips than ever before, but government is often a late adopter. Finding information about how, when, and where to vote remains a scavenger hunt, instead of a simple push notification. US voters can be limited by the morass of 50 different sets of state laws governing elections and registration.

Simplifying voting

That’s why my friend Seth Flaxman and I set out to simplify voting. In 2010, we created TurboVote, a simple application that lets anyone sign up, answer a few simple questions, and then receive all the materials and information they need to get registered, stay registered, and vote in all their elections.

More recently, we partnered with the municipal officials who run American elections to design and build a tool – Ballot Scout – to trace ballots through the postal system. 36 US states currently allow voters to cast their ballots by mail before Election Day, giving voters the ability to research and complete their ballots in the comfort of their own homes. But ballots are sometimes lost or delayed. One study of the 2012 elections estimated that as many as 3.9 million ballots requested never reached voters and another 2.9 million ballots received by voters did not make it back to election officials. Those numbers are unacceptable for something this important; so we’re equipping government offices with better tools for accountability, oversight, and voter communication.

Officials and technologists

Real changes in government services have to include these officials rather than trying to disrupt them from outside, which is the way innovation happens in so many other industries. All government services (not just elections) need modernisation, to be built on the interests of constituents, rather than creating a maze of rules or regulations. Government offices understand this, but often lack the tools to get started.

Collaborations between officials and technologists offer huge promise. We help election administrators meet voters where they are — wherever they are — and provide them with timely information. Technology helps to make that connection easier and more reliable. And creating a richer interaction between officials and voters gives us a greater chance of making sure that every vote, every voice, is heard.

Kathryn Peters is a member of the Libertine100; read her profile heredemocracy.works; @katyetc. Image credit: CC Kelley Minors

Finding information about how, when, and where to vote remains a scavenger hunt, instead of a simple push notification

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