Mobile Commons Helps NY, NJ Voters Get to Polls

As if New York and New Jersey residents didn’t have enough logistical nightmares to deal with in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, they also have to figure out where they can vote.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Sunday that at least 59 polling places throughout the city cannot open because of storm damage or loss of power. Luckily, there is an easy way for voters to learn where to go: a texting service provided free of charge to the city by New York-based Mobile Commons.

Residents of New York and New Jersey need only text the message “NYCVOTES” to 877877. They will then be prompted to send a home address, and receive an updated polling location in return (I tried it, and it couldn’t be easier). The service is being heavily promoted through news broadcasts, social media, and get-out-the-vote groups as the best way to get accurate information.

As a result of all the publicity, “we’ve received many thousands of texts from New York and New Jersey” in the last few days, Mobile Commons general manager Amanda Moskowitz tells me. “Texting is really the best channel for getting out critical information, especially when so many people don’t have access to broadband or don’t have power.”

Mobile Commons announced the launch of its Polling Place Locator in October, working with the non-profit Voting Information Project and using data supplied by Google. Mobile Commons CEO and co-founder Jed Albert  said then that 1.9 million people failed to vote in the 2008 election simply because they didn’t know where they needed to go to cast their ballot, with the problem expected to be worse this year because of nationwide redistricting.

Mobile Commons is offering its service to organizations throughout the country, but New York and New Jersey will most likely be the heaviest users because of the storm, Moskowitz says.

“This is a real-time program so the information is updated as soon as we get it from the Board of Elections,” she says. “It’s particularly important that we remind people that the election is still happening, that they can get out and vote. People are trying to figure out how to get the most basic functions, and we think being able to vote is one of those.”

Incidentally, Mobile Commons has managed to keep the service running and updated despite being displaced from its own offices in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, along the East River, for several days. “We’re all pretty good at working from home,” Moskowitz says.

So good, in fact, that the company is preparing a new text service this week for people whose homes were damaged by the storm. It will allow them to text disaster relief workers for the specific help they need and their location.

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