If you want to avoid long lines on Election Day, should you vote first thing in the morning, at the end of the workday, or maybe dash out mid afternoon to cast your ballot? When will you face the shortest lines? And, by the way, are you sure you’re going to the right polling place and that they have you properly registered?
And wouldn’t it be great if your phone could tell you all those things?
Well, that’s what the TrustTheVote Project’s BusyBooth™ app is being developed to do. Kind of similar to Waze™, the crowd-sourced traffic app, BusyBooth will answer your polling-place questions on Election Day. And with BusyBooth you can share the data via social media – “Hey all, only a 5 minute wait at John Smith Elementary School! Head down now to vote.”
As BusyBooth use grows, the more data will be available so that everyone including elections officials, news media, academics, and political consultants, can see and even forecast trends in turnout, wait times, and visualize them across a town, county, or even a state.
BusyBooth could help elections officials better manage their polling places as much as it can help voters figure out the best time to go. The BusyBooth App should be able to help voters schedule their departure time, based on where they are, to arrive at the best time at their polling place, and send them an alert when it’s time to leave.
So, what does it take to make this kind of public-service app real?
The first challenge is accuracy. How do we know that one political party or another, or some outside Super PAC, is not using BusyBooth to send a false signal that this polling place is jammed when it’s actually nearly empty, or the precinct is slow and someone is telling you it’s not. The honor system is great and all, but gaming in politics is always a temptation.
BusyBooth handles this by using the existing voter database that jurisdictions have on hand. BusyBooth will ask the user a question or two that verifies that the user is in fact a registered voter, in that precinct, and presto, the user will be logged in to BusyBooth. Then, the voter can learn how long the lines are at his or her polling place, and upon arriving at the precinct, can enter how long it took to cast their ballot from the time they arrived to departure.
Boom, crowd-sourced and verified data.
Some states already have online voter registration, and a system that allows you to check whether you are, in fact, registered properly. BusyBooth relies on the latest copy of the local voter database to authorize users.
This is an example of how open public data – voter registration rolls – can be provided by government but used by app developers to help voters and election analysts. But there’s a bit more. Without going geek here, local elections authorities have to provide a “connector” (in geek-speak that’s an API or "application programming interface") so that the voting jurisdiction systems can talk to the BusyBooth App and properly provide the necessary data. But this doesn’t require elections officials to manage and operate BusyBooth. BusyBooth is intended to be a standalone service that works on its own power with good connections to the voter registration data.
The BusyBooth App can go beyond just telling voters about their particular polling place traffic and when best to go cast their ballot, although that’s the most immediate benefit to help voters. There are many ways to use the data in aggregate, especially after a couple of election cycles. How about a graph that shows how the volume of votes is outpacing that of two years before, and by how much, and at what point in the day, and in which precincts? What is the forecast high, medium, low traffic points over a time window?
BusyBooth will connect you to your voting place from wherever you are, and it will provide real-time data that helps voters interact with their government on Election Days, and beyond.