Tech Transforms the Election Experience, From VR to Voter Registration

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a narrow lead against her Republican rival Donald Trump.

SurveyMonkey gives anyone the chance to poll others on topics as mundane as favorite cheesecake recipes among family members. But its paying customers can conduct sophisticated custom surveys for market research and other business projects. In the process of hosting all these polls, SurveyMonkey says it has compiled contact information for almost three million people who can be sorted into categories, such as registered voters. Those selected can be asked to answer questions about their views on the candidates.

SurveyMonkey jumped into the election arena late last year, betting that its samplings of survey participants might better represent the American voting population than responders to traditional telephone polls.

Its competitor, Google market research unit Google Consumer Surveys, had already been using its online and mobile surveying methods in the prior presidential election. In this campaign season, it was chosen by GOP-linked research firm Echelon Insights to track voters’ views of the Republican presidential primary candidates, and to plumb the reasons behind Donald Trump’s appeal.

Polls are only predictive to the extent that their participants actually get out and vote—and technology has been playing a role in that arena too. The first step there is reducing the hassle of registering.

Washington, DC-based non-profit Rock the Vote has been offering online voter registration on its own site, as well as providing the same service as a customizable, white-label feature for other organizations. Non-partisan Rock the Vote estimated this month that it has gotten almost seven million voters registered by working with more than 25,000 partners. Among Rock the Vote’s partners are Newsela and Aleya Labs.

Tech-assisted voter registration now extends to mobile phones in Pennsylvania. Rock the Vote worked with partners to create a free Pennsylvania Voter Registration App. The Android app feeds registrations straight into the Pennsylvania Department of State’s voter rolls though the agency’s Web API.

But what about the act of voting itself?

Technology companies such as San Diego-based Everyone Counts are trying to make online voting possible, but we’ll have to wait at least another four years before mass voting from devices at home helps determine who gets to be president.

Everyone Counts has developed software for an online voting system that would allow citizens to vote using off-the-shelf tablet computers. The company announced in late August that its system, called eLect Quad Audit, completed testing by a federally accredited voting system test lab that uses the latest federal voting system standards.

But that came too late to affect many voters in the upcoming election, because local election officials wouldn’t have had time to acquire the system and get it up and running. However, the Everyone Counts system can be used this year by U.S. military personnel and civilian voters overseas.

Once the current election is over, there may be an opening for such companies to sell their online voting technology. But the method is still embroiled in controversy, because some experts doubt that online systems can ever be made secure from hackers who want to disrupt an election or engineer a victory for the candidate they favor.

Election officials, however, can look to tech firms for a little help with managing the complex process of conducting an election this year.

Former North Carolina company EasyVote Solutions, now based near Atlanta, is marketing a Web-based software system that organizes all the chores related to elections, from scheduling poll workers to receiving campaign finance reports from candidates.

For jurisdictions using paper ballots, Boston-based Clear Ballot offers an optical scanner that captures an image of each ballot—ambiguous markings and all—and extracts data on the vote count. In contested elections, the paper ballots can always be resurrected from storage and checked by hand.

So if we’re not lucky, we might still be sync-watching comedy skits about “hanging chads.”

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