pollwatch-usa-election-app

For many, voting on Election Day – or filling out an absentee ballot in the weeks leading up to it – is a source of incredible civic pride. You do your research, decide which candidate you align with and fill in the bubble next to their name. Simple enough, right?

Well, not always.

Invariably, it seems that almost every Election Day – somewhere out in America – something goes wrong. Poll locations run out of ballots, qualified voters are told they’re not on the voter roll (looking at you, Florida), or there is a chad left hanging.

Enter PollWatchUSA – a new smart phone app developed at the Personal Democracy Forum’s Civil Society Hackathon, by, you guessed it, a team of “hackers.” The app takes an idea formed by Common Cause/NY and places it in the palms of any voter with a smart phone – and it has the potential to make big waves come November.

The concept is simple – allow any voter to report a problem in real time via their phone. Any report made is routed to “a web-based map and can be looped in to a hotline number” that will bring it to the immediate attention of someone able to address the issue.

The Limits of Traditional Election Day Oversight

There are qualified officials and well-trained volunteers deployed to ensure problems on Election Day are limited and addressed as quickly as possible. But it’s costly and time consuming to train them. There’s also a litany of campaign representatives and lawyers for political parties out there monitoring, but they are likely only looking for problems that negatively impact their candidate or party and could possibly overlook those affecting the opposition.

Elections, especially in a high-turnout Presidential election, is an enormous logistical challenge and often, elections officials are focusing their attention on those areas most likely to see problems. But what about the areas not expected to see a lot of problems, but do? Watchdog groups are generally unable to supply the resources necessary to supplement the efforts of elections officials and volunteers at every polling location around the country and many issues are underreported or not reported until it’s too late. But now, we can be our own elections officials.

Crowdsourcing Can Improve Civic Participation

The PollWatchUSA app is a great example of crowdsourcing exercises designed to improve the political process and empower voters. When voters hear about problems at polling locations or with polling machines, they can lose faith in the system (if they hadn’t already) and decide not to vote. Instead, voters will now have a tool that encourages their civic engagement not just to vote, but to ensure that the Election Day process is problem-free and allows everyone to make their voices heard fairly and equally.