The Pew Charitable Trusts’ elections initiatives project has worked with public and private sector partners for the past 10 years to create tools that make voting easier, more efficient, and less costly. The Voting Information Project (VIP), a partnership among Pew, the states and Google, has provided voters with official information about where to vote, and what’s on their ballots.
Since its inception in 2008, VIP has become an essential part of the Election Day experience for millions by making polling place locations, ballot information, and other official election information easily searchable online on a range of platforms. This month, Pew turned over management of these efforts to Democracy Works, a nonprofit that shares the project’s goals and mission.
VIP was launched after representatives of Pew and Google recognized that they could create the technological infrastructure to support a standardized, reliable, nationwide source of aggregated data about where and when to vote, and what was on the ballot—something that did not yet exist.
Google dedicated significant engineering resources to build and maintain VIP, and helped surface VIP data in its search engine. Other companies with strong online presences—including Facebook, LinkedIn, Etsy, Instagram, Mozilla, AOL, Twitter, AT&T, and Foursquare—helped make voting information easy to find by highlighting polling place lookup tools in online locations that Americans visit every day, and by pushing timely notifications to users. Working with VIP, these companies provided crucial voting information and promoted civic engagement.
Right from the start, VIP reached large numbers of people:
- Leading up to the 2010 national midterm elections, voters accessed the project’s data 10 million times.
- In the 2012 presidential election year, the number climbed to more than 25 million.
- For the 2014 midterm elections, VIP information was accessed 32 million times.
- And in 2016, the tools were used more than 123 million times during the entire election cycle.
VIP has expanded its reach over time to cover municipal, county, and special elections. In 2017 alone, the project provided data for more than 70 elections nationwide.
State election officials and administrators can use VIP’s free tools in a variety of ways. They have worked to provide access where most useful to voters, making sure the information is available through search engines and social media, for example, and easily accessible, even via SMS (text) on mobile phones.
Options such as the embeddable Voting Information Tool, the GetToThePolls.com website, and the texting tool (text VOTE to GOVOTE) have assisted election officials and voters by harnessing VIP’s official voting information and making sure it is widely accessible. Consequently, Pew and its partners want to ensure that VIP continues and thrives in this important role.
Pew worked to establish a permanent home for the project and ensure the long-term availability of the data VIP publishes. In March 2017, the project announced the start of that process.
After an extensive search, Pew selected Democracy Works. Since its founding in 2011, Democracy Works has become well-known and well-respected as an innovator of approaches to improving the voting experience using technology. The organization has been a trusted partner to both state and local election officials, as well as technology companies and civically engaged corporations.
In 2012, Democracy Works launched TurboVote, a service that allows users to receive regular updates about upcoming elections: when they are, where they’re taking place, and what’s on the ballot. TurboVote’s role in the elections ecosystem rapidly expanded, and in 2016, Democracy Works promoted the TurboVote Challenge, enlisting support from major corporations such as Starbucks, NBC, and Target to broaden the service’s reach.
As part of its civic engagement work, the organization has developed significant substantive and technical expertise in collecting, curating, and sharing election data. In that capacity, Democracy Works became Pew’s lead technical partner on VIP in December 2013. Since then, the group has worked closely with Pew and Google to ensure that participating states can share official information for every election through VIP. That has meant making the data available across the project’s various tools and Google’s Civic Information API, or application programming interface.
Starting in mid-June, Democracy Works will operate VIP, adhering to the principles established recently by a group of stakeholders involved with elections, technology, and academia. The group will work with election officials across the United States to aggregate official information and help ensure the success of voter-facing tools established by VIP and its partners. Democracy Works will maintain and nurture the strong relationships with state and local election officials that have been instrumental to VIP’s success.
Pew has long held the view that voting is a cornerstone of American democracy, and has invested in making the electoral process more accountable and accessible. By developing the Voting Information Project—and ensuring its continued operation via Democracy Works—Pew’s elections initiatives efforts have made election information more available to voters and easy to find.
Michael D. Thompson is vice president of state and local government performance and Monica Leibovitz is an officer for election initiatives at The Pew Charitable Trusts.