Here is the second of two posts on this point.
In our first blog post on civic technology, we laid out where we think the TrustTheVote Project fits in the broad categories of groups engaged in using technology to improve or change government. For that, we relied on a taxonomy proposed by Forest Gregg, of DataMade. Gregg sees that civic tech is mainly about developing four kinds of apps: for news, for access, for propaganda, and for system plumbing.
The TrustTheVote Project is developing an entire framework comprised of software apps and services for voting and election administration and they all fit in some way with civic technology, but they cut across many categories. Here’s a sampling of some our technologies and where we think they fit into the civic technology landscape. All of these apps interact at some level with the voter and are designed to work with off-the-shelf computers, printers, and scanners:
- BusyBooth is a mobile app, which will tell you how long wait times are at your polling place, and how many people have voted or have yet to vote, plus other information. It works with the Voter Services Portal. But BusyBooth has aspects of all three of Gregg’s definitions. It’s a news app – it seeks to give valuable information; it’s an access app, because it will make it easier for people to plan their voting time at the polls, and it’s a system plumbing app because it increases the flow of information in both directions, to and from government. It’s a three-fer.
- Digital Poll Book. When you check in at your polling place, those big binders or stacks of paper listing all the registered voters in your precinct will be replaced by a tablet or laptop that an election worker will use to check you in and confirm your eligibility.
- Voter Kiosk: If you have a problem at check in, you’ll be able to go to a kiosk at your polling place where a computer and a printer will help you sort out your registration, much like an airline check-in kiosk, from which you’ll be able to print out your “onboarding” document that affirms you are registered to vote there.
- Accessible Ballot Marker is what some might normally call a “voting machine.” We say "normally" because in our case, the "ABM" (for short) is merely a digital assistant for marking a ballot, not casting a ballot (as we see with most current eVoting systems). It’s a tablet or laptop app (with an associated printer) that presents a voter with all the contests and questions for that voter’s specific ballot, and creates a machine countable printed ballot that records the voter’s choices. The printer produces a beautiful ballot complete with all its identifying (registration and timing) marks for machine reading and all of the questions and contests with fully blackened circles of the choices; no stray marks and no hanging chads! That ballot is what is "read" by the counting machinery once handed to an election official. That printed ballot will provide a verifiable audit trail should the election result be questioned, or challenged in a recount. Our stakeholders like to refer to this as the "ballot of record" and yes, for this purpose it is paper.
- Precinct Ballot Counter is a computer, display, printer, and scanner that reads a ballot (such as the one produced by the ABM just described), interprets the marks that indicate the voter’s choices, and records the votes. (And our counters' design actually capture the ballot casting data in a couple of different manners to further provide for verification and audit.) Depending on local process and procedure requirements, the voter on the spot is informed of any issues with the marks or selections -- at least initially on personal inspection before surrendering, and potentially even after it has been handed in for initial processing, and in any event should be able to retrieve the ballot for further marking or replacement.
All of these are, in a sense, access apps and system plumbing apps. But they’re really much more. These five apps do interact with voters, but they’re also designed and intended for election administrators to make their record-keeping easier, more transparent, and more verifiable.
In short, they are designed and intended to improve the operations of government.
Behind these voter-facing TrustTheVote Project apps are another set of apps and services strictly for the election administrators. They range from election and registrar data managers and a ballot design studio, to central ballot counters, tabulators, and analytic functions. They’re a bit too involved to describe here, but they are in a sense the nervous system of the TrustTheVote Project's open source elections technology framework, sending and receiving open standards based data internally, and through open-source software, so that future elections will be more verifiable, accurate, secure, transparent and simply more manageable.
Finally, at the back-end of our new elections technology framework we are building apps that are all about “reporting” information about election results. These applications are integral to making elections transparent. VoteStream is an excellent example of this.
In Forrest Gregg’s taxonomy, these apps are most like news apps – they are designed to inform. VoteStream, for example, stores, analyze, and prepare for public consumption all sorts of data on election results down to the precinct level. The data is gathered from election administrators in standard common data formats, but then can be sliced and diced not only by the election officials but by the public, using their own Web interface, and by third parties who can access the data directly and analyze or publicize the data in graphical or other forms. Political consultants and the media could use VoteStream to break down vote results across the country in any manner that is useful to them. And the public themselves, through the Web interface, could see how their county, city, or precinct voted, broken down by demographics, party registration and a whole host of other criteria. VoteStream means transparency for everyone.
So, we’re doing a lot that can be characterized as “civic tech,” but we view our work as going a step further. Sure, we’re creating apps that inform the public, give them easier access to the voting process and aspire to make voting easier, more convenient and dare we suggest even a delight to use. But most of our work is making the jobs of elections administrators easier and more modern.
We are both a public-service and community-service project. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit R&D and educational organization that is pushing the innovation curve for elections administration and voting, and in the course, creating open source solutions that will be publicly owned, freely available by anyone for adaptation and deployment by governments, and used by government staff -- while delivering citizen-facing capabilities and benefits.
So, in that sense we’re different. Government is the only entity that can conduct elections; we’re improving that critical democratic function by working hand in glove with local elections officials so that future elections and their outcomes will be held in higher confidence.