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Innovation in Government: Elections

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 18 months, you are well aware that the presidential election is just a week away. And this election is memorable in many ways – I am sure you are thinking of a few right now, depending on your political persuasion. But I would argue that one of the most interesting reasons this election will be viewed as a tipping point is because of the role of technology in making voters’ experiences even better.

Let’s be honest – government often gets a bad rap for being behind the curve when it comes to the latest and greatest in technology. That perception is more valid in some circumstances than others, to be fair. But when it comes to the smoothing the process of elections – providing the ability for registered voters to exercise their right to vote – this year, the use of technology has taken a leap forward.

What’s the Big Problem?

In the U.S., we have a less than desired voter turnout. In fact, the number of Americans voting each election has been in a downward trend for the past 50 years. According to Fair Vote, voter turnout in the U.S. fluctuates in national elections, with recent polling numbers indicating that about 57 percent of eligible voters turned out for the last presidential election and about 36 percent participated in the last mid-term election. The mid-term election of 2014 was actually the lowest voter turnout in 70 years. Now, there are many different reasons cited for this decline in turnout; however, one of them stands out for its potential to be solved by a practical application.

You see, the Pew Charitable Trust has studied the election process and produces an Election Performance Index. This EPI allows state officials to compare data from the last two mid-year elections and the last two presidential elections to identify areas in which states can improve to make them more cost-effective and efficient. One of the areas they looked at closely was wait times. When it comes to improving voter experience, they recommend using polling place management tools to allocate resources and reduce waits.

Here Comes the Innovation

Now, tracking wait times at polling places is nothing new. We have all waited in lines to vote before, unless you live in a really small town or just hit the polling location at exactly the right time. Technology now exists that can be used by poll workers to report expected wait times at polling locations based on real-time information. These wait times can shared with citizens on mobile apps and websites. Sharing this information helps voters figure out the best time to vote, and helps to plan for spikes in voters during certain times of the day. The more convenient, the more people may vote.

In fact, there are a variety of apps that exist to help citizens throughout the entire election process. Voters can turn to online apps and websites to find early voting locations where they can cast ballots in person or by mail, to find polling locations on election day. Finding polling locations and deciphering wait time is half the battle: ensuring voters are well informed is the other half. Having trouble figuring out elected representatives and what they stand for? There’s an app for that.

Once the election is over, election results can be provided to citizens more easily, again through apps that clerks, election commissions and other government organizations can use to deliver election reporting. There is even an app that provides historical election results so officials can monitor changes from one election to the other.

It’s that kind of innovative thought that makes me excited to work with government. And more and more, governments at all levels are turning to technology to help them improve citizen services, digital government, and citizen engagement. We are here at the starting line for Election 2016 – it will be exciting to see the progress over future election cycles.

One last election-related note: I hope you all will take the time to go and cast your vote. And when you do, remember to be appreciative of those poll workers. They are working hard to give you the best voting experience they can, and facilitate what is truly an amazing process.

Jeff Peters is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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