Summary: Voter’s Voice is a free online platform to allow voters to rate polling stations, suggest improvements, and connect with election officials to advocate for improvements to polling station accessibility, equipment and the general voting experience.
Election officials at various administrative levels (for example, precinct, county and state) will also be encouraged to link into the platform and use it as a tool to communicate with citizens about improvements to polling stations and promote changes to policies, procedures or facilities that make the polling experience more accessible, comfortable and inviting for any voter.
The key benefits that Voter’s Voice will provide to voters are:
- Provides quick and convenient access to information about polling stations, such as address and contact details
- Creates greater opportunity for information exchange between voters and election officials
- Records and stores feedback provided by voters to election officials, and any responses provided by officials, encouraging transparency and accountability
- Provides a means for voters to evaluate the voting experience and collectively add to a store of information that can be used by citizens, activists and watchdog groups to advocate for improvements to the voting experience
- Creates metrics by which the work of election officials can be analyzed
The problem: Citizens, especially those that experience accessibility issues when voting in person, need a channel through which they can provide feedback easily to election officials about the voting experience at their polling station and hold these officials accountable to addressing voter needs. Many voters do not have the option to chose which polling station or precinct they use. If the polling station does not provide adequate services, equipment or facilities to fit their needs, these voters may not have an easy way to advocate for improvements.
The solution: Use a simple rating and feedback mechanism to organize and collect evaluations from voters about each polling station in a particular precinct, county or state. Create links to election officials and provide information from the website to these officials to increase officials’ understanding of voters’ concerns, requests or needs. As participation increases, Voter’s Voice will become an increasingly powerful platform through which to advocate for improvements to the election experience and for voters, activists and watchdogs to track improvements over time and hold officials accountable to making the voting experience accessible, accessible, comfortable and inviting for any voter.
In summary, the platform allows the public to participate in quality control efforts, provide performance metrics for election workers, and allow citizens an opportunity to advocate for positive improvements to the voting experience.
The platform: Voter’s Voice is an online platform that has three key elements:
- A profile for each polling station or precinct in a particular administrative area (precinct, county and state, for example), which is geolocated and tagged using Google Maps or a similar online map platform.
- A means by which voters can anonymously rate the voting experience and provide feedback or comments about their polling station.
- A history of voters’ ratings, voters’ feedback and comments, and any responses or updates from relevant election officials organized chronologically and attached to the profile page of each polling station.
- A five-point scale for rating a polling station. The rating scale ranges from 1 (“Needs improvement”) to 5 (“Couldn’t be better”). Each polling station can be rated by four categories:
- Voting Experience
- A form to provide a comment or suggestion or to detail a user’s experience while voting at the particular polling station. The form can be completed with or without providing a rating above.
- A profile page for each polling station, which includes:
- Map location on a Google Map or other map platform
- Address and contact details for the polling station administrator
- Contact details for the election body that administers this polling station as well as the official responsible for coordinating this polling station
- An aggregate score for the polling station for each of the four categories above. The score averages all the ratings submitted by users over time. The score would be expressed graphically on a sliding scale, with an arrow marking the average score between “needs improvement” and “couldn’t be better”. (Note: an icon or color may connote unhappiness or warning and may turn off voters who are on the fence about turning out to vote).
- A chronological list of all voter feedback, with the most recent comments appearing first. The list of comments is organized like a simple online forum, with replies appearing below the original message in a thread. Special colors will distinguish a comment from a voter versus a comment from a registered (and verified) election official. While voters may submit comment anonymously, officials will post under a public profile.
- A catalogue of polling station profile pages searchable by map location (using Google Maps or another map platform), zip code, and/or voting precinct number.
- Buttons to share polling station profile pages, maps, voter or election official feedback, or ratings via social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ or via email.
- An issue or polling station tracker feature allowing users to sign up for email updates (instant, daily, or weekly) with the most recent comments or feedback from voters or election officials related to a particular polling station or to a particular comment thread in the voter feedback section.
Access: Voter’s Voicewill be accessed through a website or related smart phone app. The platform will allow visitors to share information contained on the site through social networking websites such as Facebook or Twitter. If, for example, visitors to the website or users of the smart phone app read a comment that they feel is particularly important, they might share this comment with friends or followers of their social networking profile. The integration with existing social networking websites will help to amplify the voices of particular voters or particular issues at polling stations.
User experience: Voter’s Voice users might experience the site in the following ways:
- An interested citizen logs on to the website after receiving a flier with the local election office's sample ballot and voting instructions mailer. The citizen learns about improvements made to her/his polling station over time but also discovers that other voters have complaints similar to her/his own, such as the screen on the electronic voting machine being too dark and the text too small. The citizen decides to provide her/his own rating and feedback to add to the growing number of citizens who have trouble using the electronic voting machines at her/his particular polling station. The user appreciates the simplicity of the Voter’s Voice website, it’s clear and uncluttered layout, and selectable text sizes, which eases screen viewing.
- A voter enters her/his polling station. They have already heard about Voter’s Voice and have downloaded the free app onto their smart phone. The app utilizes the phone’s location feature and sends a notice to the phone recognizing that the voter has entered her/his polling station. The app encourages the voter to provide feedback to Voter’s Voice. After voting, s/he using the simple 5 point rating system to provide positive feedback about the voting experience. Noticing the good facility features, s/he leaves feedback suggesting that the accessibility of this polling station is better than the polling station in the same county where her/his mother votes.
- A voter is shown to a bank of iPads at the polling station by an election volunteer and is told that they can provide feedback about their experience at this polling location through a simple iPad app. The voter gives the polling station generally positive ratings but uses the feedback/comment form to comment on the difficulty of using the punch card ballot. The voter uses the simple email incon and form to email her/himself and her/his family a link to the page for their polling station.
- A disability rights activists is introduced to the Voter's Voice site by a friend on Facebook. They link profile pages for polling stations stations in their county to an issue page they have created on Facebook to highlight the lack of proper access ramps and poor equipment for voters with hearing loss. The links to the pages provides this online campaign with information provided by a wider community to press the point that the county election officials should do more to prioritize making local polling stations more accessible.
- An official at the county election office is involved in public relations and external communications. The county has recently started a campaign to highlight its new voting machines, which will provide enhanced features for seeing and hearing impaired voters. The official is aware of the site because the county has formed a partnership with Voter's Voice in an effort to improve public relations and encourage higher voter turnout. The official makes it a daily routine to review comments from voters from the recent election period and to respond to comments or suggestions from voters with information about how the election office is responding to voter needs. The official also highlights the new voting machines and notes that the machines will be available for an upcoming special election. The official is sure to mention when an issue raised by a voter has been resolved and is happy to note that the machines will resolve voter concerns relating to difficulty voting using the old system for voters with vision or hearing impairments.
- Links through election office websites
- Fliers provided at polling stations, in mailings provided by election officials (sample ballot mailings for example) and at post offices
- Through grassroots networks of activists
- Through social networking websites
- Through activist and get-out-the-vote groups
- In partnership with election officials
- In partnership with campaigns, political parties or candidates