In Pike County, PA's recent municipal primary election on May 19, just 26% of eligible voters cast ballots. Of those voters, over 60% abstained from particular political and judicial races, such as Justice of the Supreme Court. The most common refrain from those who participated in exit interviews was: "I didn't know who the candidates were."
In our system of self-government, we believe every citizen ought to have easy access to information about who they can vote for (before Election Day) and who represents them.
We envision a comprehensive and accurate database of our democracy –– comprised of basic information about every elected official and political candidate, at every level, everywhere in the United States.
This resource, made available through an open API as well as in existing national elections data formats, would be a critical part of the foundation for a robust civic technology ecosystem and a means of empowering a new era of civic engagement in the 21st Century.
In the United States, there are over a half million elected officials and nearly one million political candidates each year. The good news is that this data exists –– somewhere, at some level. However, the challenge is that this data is held by more than 3,000 counties and 10,000 municipalities, many of which do not have the expertise or incentive to publish it in a way that can be easily found and aggregated.
There are many organizations and individuals working to solve this problem, most notably Pew & Google's Voting Information Project, but these are efforts are largely focused on larger population centers, which leaves much of the country's election data incomplete.
Even if the sum of these efforts accurately maps every county with a population over 300,000 people (as is a reported aspirational goal), then 129 million Americans living in 2,9017 counties with less than 300,000 people will still be left behind.
Scope of Our Project
Over the long-term, we aim to augment existing efforts to "map our democracy" through an ongoing and distributed citizen crowd-sourcing campaign.
Through an open-source platform, citizens everywhere could contribute civic information about their community or other communities, in a simple, social and scalable way. The information contributed would be formatted into a standard schema to be pulled into the larger database, such as the Voting Information Project, and made available to any civic tech application and directly to the public at large.
Hackathon Objectives & Outcomes
For the National Day of Civic Hacking, we aimed to:
(i) develop an overarching and scalable crowd-sourcing strategy (see deck link);
(ii) build a MVP crowd-sourcing platform (see GitHub link #1);
(iii) prove the concept by assembling the available information about San Francisco's November 2015 municipal election into a nationally recognized open data format (GitHub link #2).
What's next for "Who Can I Vote For?"
Over the next two months, we would like to "map our democracy" via our crowdsourcing platform in San Francisco –– perhaps with a dedicated civic hack day. Over the next four months, we would like to form the organizational foundation to fund, organize, and manage this initiative. Over the next six months, we would like to deploy our Democracy Data Corps nationwide. Our ultimate aim is to contribute to a comprehensive and accurate mapping of our democracy by the end of 2016.
Until the day (too long from now...) when every locality proactively publishes their data in a standardized formatted... it will be up to committed, civic-minded citizens to take on this task.