CTCL Presents the Election Toolkit at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference

At CTCL, we recognize that, even though the intended audience for our Election Toolkit is election administrators, it’s a useful resource for many different groups interested in civic engagement, elections, and local government. 

One of our key supporters, the Democracy Fund, recognizes that, too. That’s why they recently invited us to give a presentation at the Midwest Political Science Association conference focused specifically on how the Election Toolkit can be used for political science research. 

MPSA is a massive conference. Over 5,000 political science scholars come to this conference, and they come from the Midwest, of course, but also from across the country and around the world. The Democracy Fund invited us meet this audience as part of a new Tech Classroom presentation series. 

Tech Classroom session led by fellow presenter Normand Peladeau

Tech Classroom session led by fellow presenter Normand Peladeau

We put together a presentation that would introduce the Toolkit to this new audience before zeroing in on how the tools can be used for research. With knowledge of the Toolkit and with academic research experience of his own, Government Services Associate Kurt Sampsel represented CTCL at the conference. 

Knowing that scholars are motivated by research questions, we paired up a sampling of political science research questions with tools from the Toolkit that a researcher could use to find answers to their questions.

First, we showed how several tools can be used to collect data valuable to political scientists.

For instance, you could use the Voting Timer App to deal with a research question like “How long does it take to vote?” If you’re curious about how long people wait to vote, you could time voters with the Voter Wait Time Measurement Tool. To find out how voters use election department websites, you can work with the Basic Web Analytics tool. Finally, you can use the Polling Place Resource Planner to tackle a question like “What resources are needed to avoid long waits at the polls?”

Slide pairing the Voting Timer App with a research question

Slide pairing the Voting Timer App with a research question

Second, we demonstrated how political scientists can use the tools as the basis for experiments. To measure the potential impact of a tech intervention, a researcher could compare outcomes from election offices that are using a tool (an experimental group) against outcomes where the tool isn’t being used (a control group). 

For example, to find out if better voting information could cut the number of provisional ballots, you could compare election authorities using the Election Website Template with those that aren’t. To see if civic outreach campaigns can affect voter turnout, you could do something similar with the Text Messaging Tool. To investigate if community groups can increase the ranks of registered voters, you can study the areas where the Voter Registration Drive Kit is used. 

All told, the MPSA conference was a great opportunity to introduce the Toolkit to a new audience and to look at the project from a fresh perspective. We also enjoyed meeting political scientists and fellow civic tech professionals. 

Want to explore the MPSA conference? Check out the #MPSA17 hashtag on Twitter

We’re happy to speak with anyone who’s interested in using the Toolkit for research projects. If that’s you, email us at hello@techandciviclife.org to start the conversation. 
 

Introducing the CTCL Advisory Committee

The Center for Technology and Civic Life’s Government Services team organizes a network of election officials who believe that technology can improve our democracy. This looks like training people who work in local government to use technology to promote civic engagement and make voting easier.

Since launching our organization in 2015, our team has trained over 1,000 election officials on topics that have ranged from online voter engagement to data visualization to our most recent collaborative project, the Election Toolkit. In 2017 we aim to reach 1,000 more election officials with a new menu of courses that meet the modern needs of the profession.

Reaching our goals requires us to think critically about the services we provide and our outreach to election officials. With this in mind, we formed an advisory committee.

In early 2017 we recruited an advisory committee of election professionals to help us shape the content of our Government Services professional development courses and expand the reach of CTCL programs.

And on March 27, we brought our advisors together for the first time at the Chicago Community Trust.

The morning started with everyone participating in a “speed dating” icebreaker exercise so we could figure out what a room of election geeks are passionate about besides electronic poll books. Then we discussed CTCL’s ambitious mission, staff, and supporters. In addition to learning more about each other, we used this in-person meeting to put our advisors to work and gather some feedback from them.

After lunch we reviewed our nonprofit approach to professional development and sales. Our advisors were then given questions about our approach that guided both individual reflection and small group discussions.

Advisors review new training outlines

Advisors review new training outlines

We began the group discussion with advisors reporting their initial gut responses to our new curricula and service delivery. They also told us what they’d like to see added to our current list of courses.

Then advisors shared ideas about our sales process -- thinking about their own experiences of how they’ve heard about and purchased professional development classes. Overall, we wrapped up the meeting with a collection of helpful next steps to consider and with everyone wanting to dig even deeper into the conversation.

Thanks to their decades of experience and thoughtful feedback, we’re already implementing their expert advice to help us reach our goals. And we can’t wait to continue engaging our advisors over the next 18 months so we might deliver the best training courses to the most election officials! We hope you’re excited as we are.

What about you? Do you have ideas about how to enhance our professional development programs for election officials? Take a look and let us know what you think by emailing us at hello@techandciviclife.org.

CTCL Speaks about Election Data at 2017 EVN Conference

As technology changes how we navigate the world around us, it’s no surprise that it impacts how we experience elections. Whether it’s lever machines, touch screens, mail ballots or other mechanics, it’s important that we have confidence in our election technology and the voting process.

CTCL’s Executive Director, Tiana Epps-Johnson, and Director of Government Services, Whitney May, attended the 2017 Election Verification Network (EVN) annual conference in Washington, D.C. This year’s conference  theme was “Refocus. Renew. Re-Inspire.” While EVN has organized 11 conferences since 2004, this was CTCL’s first time joining the group.

The Election Verification Network brings together election officials, technologists, attorneys, researchers, advocates, and others who are passionate about elections. Together, they “collaborate across disciplines and opinions toward two inseparable goals: voting is accessible, private, reliable and secure; and elections are transparent, accurate and verifiable.”

We put together a panel on how election officials can use data to boost transparency. CTCL was joined by Jennifer Morrell, Deputy of Elections and Recording in Arapahoe County, Colorado, and Kenneth Bennett, IT Manager with Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder-Clerk.

Over the course of our panel, Jennifer discussed her experience publishing wait time data so Arapahoe voters could find the most convenient location to vote. Ken highlighted L.A. County’s use of analytics to make decisions about poll worker recruitment and paper ballot purchases. He also spoke about how simply publishing election data doesn’t automatically equate to transparency and improved processes. Ken advised the audience that it’s critical for the public and election staff to not only have access to data but also understand its context and nuance.

Then Whitney introduced the Election Toolkit and 3 of its data tools that election officials can use to capture data in order to make better decisions about resources and communications. And we wrapped up our panel with a breakout discussion, facilitated by Tiana, about how election offices and advocates can work together to publish data in ways that increase transparency and confidence in elections.

In addition to leading our EVN session we also enjoyed navigating an interactive exhibit set up by Michelle Bishop from the National Disability Rights Network and Gretchen Knauff from the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. They created a mock polling place with barriers and asked visitors to identify ways that the polling place could be improved so that it was usable by everyone.

Overall the EVN conference was a great opportunity for us to meet members, network with election geeks, and share the work that CTCL does with a new audience. To learn more about EVN and the 2017 conference, visit their website at electionverification.org and join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #EVN17.

 

How the Center for Technology and Civic Life Will Engage Millions More Americans in the Democratic Process

Reposted from the Knight Foundation blog

Tiana Epps-Johnson is executive director of the Center for Technology and Civic Life. Today, Knight Foundation is announcing $508,000 in new support for the center to train municipal officials to use digital tools for community outreach and election planning. 

Navigating the voting process can be cumbersome and opaque. Problems such as long lines at polling places, confusing ballot instructions and inadequate public information about the voting process have contributed to devastating declines in civic participation.

We founded the Center for Technology and Civic Life two years ago because we saw an opportunity to make voting easier for millions of Americans.

As we evaluated how we might make the greatest impact, we focused on two core initiatives:

  • Building a professional development network for election officials who want to learn about new ways to engage the public and keep up with changing technology.

  • Informing people nationwide about their local government and their choices in upcoming elections by collecting and standardizing key information from the thousands of different places it lives, and publishing it in a format that allows civic tech organizations and companies to build powerful tools.

As we reflect on our first two years we are proud of the progress we’ve made.

We’ve trained hundreds of elections officials from small communities and large on how to meet the informational and accessibility needs of their diverse audiences, use social media to reach members of their community where they are, and use data to make resource decisions so that people have a seamless experience at the polling place.

To help scale the reach of our training, last summer we launched the Election Toolkit, a library of free and low-cost tools for election officials, funded through the Knight News Challenge on Elections. Presented complete with step-by-step instructions, the tools are being used by officials across the country to promote civic engagement and make voting easier.

And in the lead up to Election Day 2016, we ran the broadest nonprofit voting information program in the country. Through partnerships with civic engagement organizations, elected officials and technology companies such as Facebook and Google, we provided answers to voters’ most pressing civic question—What’s on my ballot?—through our Ballot Information Project. All told the public accessed our data more than 150 million times.

As we plan for the future, we are doubling down on our work to modernize the voting process with key support from Knight Foundation. We will provide hundreds more election officials with the training and tools they need to make voting easier for members of their communities. And working in partnership with other civic engagement organizations and technology companies we will reach millions more people with the answers to their most pressing civic questions so they are better able to engage in the democratic process.

Email Tiana-Epps Johnson via tiana@techandciviclife.org and follow her on Twitter @tianaej. Follow the Center for Technology and Civic Life on Twitter @HelloCTCL.

CTCL: An Organization for All Seasons

Across the country, the spotlight throughout 2016 was on elections and governance, making it an exciting second year for us at the Center for Technology and Civic Life. 

As we celebrate CTCL’s two year anniversary, we wanted to share a season-by-season look back at what we accomplished in 2016, and take a sneak peek at what’s ahead.

Winter: A Hot Start in the Cold Months

The snowy part of 2016 started with a flurry of activity. In January our Civic Data team brought together 30 different organizations from across the civic tech space. The focus of the convening, hosted at Google’s Washington DC office, was how groups can work together to better provide voters with information about elections. After a lively day-long discussion, we identified a number of areas for future collaboration. That same week the team attended a meeting at the General Services Administration focused on similar themes. At the meeting, Donny Bridges presented on how investing in local government can make civic technology a more sustainable field.

While the Civic Data team battled the snow in DC, the Government Services team headed to California for a series of trainings and presentations about online voter engagement. The team started the trip training 56 election officials across two trainings in conjunction with the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (CACEO). Later, at the Future of California Elections (FoCE) conference, Whitney May spoke on a panel about engaging historically disenfranchised communities around elections. This was the first trip of a whirlwind year of trainings and panels for the Government Services team, who presented to hundreds of elections officials across the country and attended conferences in ten different states. 

Spring: Turning the Clocks Forward on Technology & Democracy

As the weather warmed up, CTCL headed to Boston - well to a school near Boston, at least. Our Executive Director, a 2015-16 Technology and Democracy Fellow at Harvard’s Ash Center, led a workshop focused on leveraging digital tools to reach today’s voters. Later in the spring, CTCL’s Ballot Information Project (BIP) was selected from a pool of over 1,300 programs as a finalist for the Classy Awards, which were held in Boston in June.

June also saw the launch of the Election Toolkit, a library of free and low-cost tools for election officials. Presented complete with step-by-step instructions, the tools are designed to help promote civic engagement and make voting easier. The entire project was designed by, with, and for election officials, and was a collaboration of CTCL, the Center for Civic Design, and the election offices of Cook (IL), Hillsborough (FL), and Inyo (CA) counties. Funding for the project was provided by a Knight News Challenge grant. As of the end of the year, we had over 5,000 unique visitors to the Toolkit site, and they came from all 50 states!

Summer: The Dog Days of the Election

When not traipsing across the country training, promoting the Toolkit, and collecting its success stories, the Government Services team found time over the summer to partner with our friend Monica Crane-Childers of Democracy Works to record two data workshops with the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). 

In the first-ever Tech Time video we talked about the importance of creating a data culture in election offices. The second video discussed data visualizations and how they can help tell a compelling story about election administration. 

Our Civic Data team (with its heroic set of 2016 research fellows) was holed up all summer, preparing for the election, but our existing data projects continued to make an impact. The Women Donors Network's Reflective Democracy dataset of election official and candidate demographics, built on top of our Governance Project data, was cited by everyone from Congresswoman Donna Edwards to the Netflix documentary 13th. We also saw the benefits of keeping our data open when Fusion and Color of Change collaborated to build an interactive look at prosecutorial elections.

Fall: A Bumper Crop of Election Data

On November 8th, in case you missed it, there was a Presidential election. The hard work of the Civic Data team's Ballot Information Project (BIP) once again answered voters' most asked question around elections: "What's on my ballot?" This was BIP's third major election cycle collecting and publishing a nationwide dataset of candidates and ballot measures, and by far its most ambitious. In 2016 our candidate dataset included over 85,000 candidates for more than 45,000 offices across the country - from President all the way down to mosquito control boards and township trustees.

This year our ballot information informed more voters than ever before. Our data provided the ballot information for Google's Voter Assistant, which was accessed 150 million times in the run up to the election. BIP data was also served 44 million times through tools like Twitter's @gov election service, built on top of the Google Civic Information API.

We also partnered with Facebook for the first time in 2016 to provide ballot information to their users across the U.S. More than 9 million unique people previewed their ballot using Facebook's vote planner tool.

It wasn't just tech giants using our data. Thousands of other people across the country used BIP data in their own voter information tools, including 32,000 students across 76 high schools in North Carolina who voted in an election simulation powered by BIP data.

All told, in 2016 CTCL had the largest nonprofit voting information program in the country.

What’s next in 2017?

Once again, we’re roaring into the new year with ambitious efforts already in the works. Early this year, the Civic Data team will be convening a sequel to last year’s discussion around how to make civic technology more collaborative. We’re also in the process of updating our Governance Project data to reflect the results of the 2016 election, so that we can continue to power tools that make it easier for people to interact with their representatives.

One of our Government Services team’s biggest accomplishments of 2016 came at the very end of the year, and will surely have a big impact on 2017: we hired Victoria Nguyen as our Outreach Associate. She’ll be cultivating our network of election officials, promoting our new professional development courses, and coordinating our social media campaigns. Be on the lookout for the launch of a full webinar series of digital and data courses for election officials this spring.

A new set of opportunities and challenges face us in 2017, both as a country and as an organization. We will meet them head on, striving to improve our democracy through our partnerships with election officials and the civic engagement community. 
 

Looking for ways to make your voice heard? We’re here to help.

At the Center for Technology and Civic Life we believe that our country is made stronger when all people are engaged in the democratic process. Ensuring that we each have the opportunity to be heard is the motivation behind everything we do at the Center. It’s why we work with election officials to help them publish information in accessible and easy-to-understand ways. It’s why we publish civic datasets that allow the public to answer basic questions about what will be on their ballot.

Contacting your representatives in Congress is one of the most fundamental ways to make your voice heard. Are you looking for ways to voice your opinion about executive orders, cabinet appointments, or pending legislation? Here are a few tools that can help:

  • MyReps is a simple way of identifying your representatives and finding their contact information. MyReps is available as a standalone lookup as well as an embeddable widget that you can add to your website.
  • Call Your Rep, specifically focused on Congress, provides contact information for each of your Senators’ and Representatives’ district offices.
  • Beyond just calling, you can use tools like PopVox to track and weigh in on specific pieces of legislation.
  • And The Town Hall Project 2018 helps you find out when your representatives will be taking questions from the public (and invites you to add information about upcoming meetings).

Many of these sites use our Governance Project data via the Google Civic Information API. This data is continuously updated, and we’re currently finishing the process of updating our city and county elected officials to reflect the results of November’s election.

Our work to increase communities’ access to the information needed for civic participation is key infrastructure for making our government more reflective and responsive.  If you want to use our dataset of elected officials for a project of your own, or if you have any questions about the data available, please drop us a line: data@techandciviclife.org. If you spot an issue with the data that needs to be addressed, or would like us to collect any other data, please let us know that as well! We hope that our datasets, and the tools built on top of it, are useful pieces of infrastructure we can each use to engage in and protect our democracy.

The Knight-Civic Hall Symposium on Tech, Politics and the Media

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, in partnership with Civic Hall, hosted the Knight-Civic Hall Symposium on Tech, Politics, and the Media on January 18th. The event brought together a diverse group of experts to reflect on the 2016 election. Over the course of the day, panelists dug into topics like the rise of fake news, the future of polling, and how to address the increasing polarization of the American electorate. 

CTCL’s Executive Director, Tiana Epps-Johnson, was invited to join a panel focused on civic engagement in the 2016 election. The discussion explored questions like:

  • Are there better ways of engaging people in the public arena?
  • What worked in 2016? What didn’t?
  • Can we make voting, along with other forms of civic participation, more fun? More valuable?

She was joined in this discussion by:

  • Eric Liu - Citizen University @ericpliu
  • Seth Flaxman - Democracy Works @Sethflaxman
  • Kate Krontiris - independent researcher @katekrontiris
  • Seamus Kraft (moderator) - OpenGov Foundation @seamuskraft

You can check out their panel here:

To learn more about the event, follow the conversation on Twitter with #KFCivicHall and visit the Knight Foundation’s blog.

Job: Government Services Associate - Position Filled

Position: Government Services Associate - Outreach
Salary: $45,000  - $50,000 per year
Benefits: Vision, dental, & medical insurance and cell phone reimbursement
Location: Chicago, IL with remote work possible
Type: Full-time
Start date: January 3, 2017


Position Description

People need information to participate in elections and hold their elected officials accountable. Unfortunately, finding important civic information isn’t always easy -- even in 2016.

We believe that government offices are responsible for publishing information by means that people have come to expect -- on the web, on mobile devices, and via social media. With this in mind, CTCL offers professional development courses that advance the tech and communication skills of local election officials so they can better engage with their communities.

As the CTCL Government Services Associate, you will grow our network of local election officials (what we call ELECTricity) and connect them with our affordable professional development courses. If you care about civic information, if you believe in the importance of public service, and if you love to exceed expectations, this is the job for you. 

Responsibilities

  • Sales - Create and execute an outreach plan to identify leads and reach annual training goals
  • Communication - Grow and manage relationships of the ELECTricity network over email, phone, and in-person to assess our customers’ needs
  • Design - Draft blog posts, brochures, social media content to promote CTCL programs and engage the ELECTricity network

Desired Qualifications

A successful candidate for the Government Services Associate position will have an understanding of our mission and demonstrate a proven track record of success. In addition, while no candidate will possess every quality, the successful candidate will possess many of the following skills and qualifications:

  • Basic understanding of sales principles
  • Experience with Mailchimp and a CRM
  • Experience creating digital content and strategy
  • Familiarity with elections and local government
  • Working knowledge of government contracting process
  • Thoughtful time management and attention to detail
  • Ability to solve thorny problems
  • Commitment to being a high performer
  • Eagerness to use new tools and technology to grow business

About CTCL

CTCL is a nonprofit that uses technology to improve the way local governments and communities interact. We do this by providing free and low-cost resources for local election officials so they can update the ways they use technology to communicate with the public. We also do this by publishing free, open-source civic datasets that are used in some of the most powerful tools that drive civic participation. 

To date, we’ve built a knowledge network of hundreds of local election administrators through a program we call ELECTricity. And we have published civic datasets that answer questions like “What’s on my ballot?” and “Who represents me?” which have been accessed over 60 million times.

To Apply

Applications will be accepted and interviews will be conducted on a rolling basis. 
Qualified applicants should submit the following information for consideration to whitney@techandciviclife.org. Please mention “Government Services Associate” in your subject line.

  1. A short letter of interest 
  2. A resume of relevant experience to the responsibilities and qualifications listed above

Applicants who meet our desired criteria will have the opportunity to complete a test to demonstrate their qualifications. Based up the applicant’s application and test results, individual interviews and reference checks will be conducted and the final applicant will be selected for the position.

The Center for Technology and Civic Life is proud to be an Equal Opportunity Employer. We encourage candidates of all races, colors, religions, national origins, sexual orientations, genders, sexes, ages, abilities, branches of military service, and political party affiliations to apply.

 

CTCL Reaches Millions of Voters through New Facebook Feature

With Facebook’s new Preview Your Ballot feature, voters this year have a convenient source of election information right at their fingertips. And behind this helpful tool are the civic datasets created by the Center for Technology and Civic Life.

As part of our mission to increase access to important civic information, CTCL gathers and publishes our nation’s largest civic datasets that answer the questions “What’s on my ballot?” and “Who are my elected officials?” Then, we work to provide this information where people already are -- to help make civic engagement fit into people’s everyday lives. 

With Preview Your Ballot, Facebook is placing information to help voters prepare for Election Day in the same place where people keep up with their family, friends, and communities. 

Beginning Wednesday, November 2, Preview Your Ballot began to appear in everyone’s Facebook feed. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of online adults in the United States are Facebook users.

Preview Your Ballot is easy to use. It asks you to enter your address and then shows you what’s on your ballot. Candidates are presented in random order, and you can read about their positions, see endorsements, and visit the candidates’ websites to help you make up your mind. You can save favorites to make a voting plan for yourself, and if you want, you can even share with friends the people and positions you’re supporting.

Facebook and CTCL have gained notice and acclaim for the new tool, including spotlights from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Hill, USA Today, Mashable, and CNET

It’s our hope that Preview Your Ballot will help people across the U.S. learn what’s on their ballots, get informed about the issues and candidates, and go to the polls on Election Day.

Find what's on your ballot with Google & the Ballot Information Project

Research shows that the question most asked by voters is "What's on my ballot?" Now, thanks to CTCL's Ballot Information Project, the answer to that question is just a Google search away!

Last week, Google rolled out BIP's ballot information in its search tool. This tool, which also includes information about where and how to vote in each state, appears automatically when a user searches any voting-related term. Voters are prompted to enter their address, and in return they get a set of national, state, and local candidates that will be on their ballot, along with easy links to learn more about those candidates. 

ballot_search

The Ballot Information Project has been supporting Google's election products since 2012. This year's dataset is the most comprehensive we've ever collected, and we are excited to be able to serve so many voters with this partnership.

Stay tuned for more news about how the Ballot Information Project's data is being used in 2016!