Cutting-Edge Democracy

The first in a series examining the ways that technology is being used to create a more accessible democracy.

Democratic participation is being revolutionized by an empowering wave of new technologies. In the first of a series of posts exploring these innovations, we’re taking a closer look at TurboVote, an organization that’s working to bring to voting the best of the digital age.

TurboVote keeps voters up-to-date on elections via email and text, and generates voter registration forms online that can easily be signed and returned — “Netflix-style” — as co-founder Kathryn Peters has said. But, they have bigger things in mind. Recently, TurboVote, facilitated by Reboot, undertook a research project to discover ways that local elections officials had built, refined, or hacked together solutions to the many challenges of registering voters and holding elections. Often, the results were inspiring, as with the vote centers of Travis County, Texas, (which contains Austin), where voters are informed in real time which vote centers have the shortest lines, then choose which to use from any polling place in the county. Travis County even hosts rigorous, diverse, bi-partisan study groups to determine the tech needs of holding elections, and have proposed technology that addresses those needs.

In another example, the Martin County, Florida Supervisor of Elections has spearheaded an extraordinary program of outreach to young soon-to-be voters. High school students pledge to vote, and volunteer their cell phone numbers in order to receive text message reminders to register. As they graduate high school, Martin County students are handed a voter registration form and absentee ballot along with their diplomas.

Some of the solutions discovered, like text-based communication with voters, are already built into TurboVote. Still, many more remain isolated in the districts where they’ve been developed, and many remain to be discovered. TurboVote and Reboot will continue to work towards the goal of finding the best of these technologies and systems, with an eye to implementation on a national scale.

The work of these organizations points to a broader voting modernization movement that includes HeadCount and its allies the Brennan Center and Rock the Vote. It was Rock the Vote’s online voter registration tool that helped HeadCount to register a total of over 100,000 voters in 2012. We’re working towards a more seamless, user-friendly experience of democracy — one that works for everyone.

Next in the series, we’ll introduce you to HeadCount’s first democracy technology, born in the field, raised online.

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