CTCL Selected Winner of Knight News Challenge

We are excited to announce that the Center for Technology and Civic Life, in partnership with the Center for Civic Design, the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, the Inyo County Clerk-Recorder-Registrar, and the Suburban Cook County Clerk, have been selected as winners of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight News Challenge on Elections.

Local election offices are a trusted source of nonpartisan civic information for voters, campaigns, and the media. And we believe they should have the best communication tools to share their information.

With $400,000 in support we are building the Civic Engagement Toolkit to bring together tested communication tools paired with step-by-step instructions that election officials can use for the 2016 General Election and beyond. 

We are asking all interested election officials to help us build the toolkit. You can choose to participate in three different ways using this simple online form:

  • Let us know what tools have been successful in your jurisdiction
  • Let us know what tools you wish you had
  • Volunteer to test the usability of the tools

We would like to meet you in-person to talk more about the toolkit and share ideas. Please reach out to us if you are interested in us attending your next election official conference or visiting your election office.

Email: hello@techandciviclife.org

Twitter: @HelloCTCL

For additional context, you can view Whitney May, CTCL's Director of Government Services, introduce our project when the Knight News Challenge on Elections winners were announced in Austin, Texas on July 22nd. 

Democratizing Democracy

Remarks delivered by Whitney May at the Knight News Challenge Announcement 

Technology has the power to connect us to each other, to the issues that we care about, and to our government. But if that technology isn’t accessible by everyone, it can widen our democracy’s digital divide. For all communities to be informed and engaged, we must break through local government technology barriers so we can increase access to civic information.

Local election officials are responsible for publishing some of our most fundamental civic information like what’s on your ballot, how you can vote by mail, and where you can vote on Election Day. Voters, candidates, and the media -- all of us -- trust this information because it comes from an official and nonpartisan source.

Unfortunately, local election officials are often under-resourced and can’t find and use the best communication tools to share their information. 

One example: In 2013, the Center for Civic Design found that 1 out of 3, or over 900, counties in the U.S. did not have an election website.

So together with a team of local election officials and design experts, we are building a Civic Engagement Toolkit: an online clearinghouse of tested resources, paired with step-by-step instructions, that any election official can use for the 2016 General Election and beyond.

I’d like to introduce our team that has 127 years of local government experience that spans rural, urban, and suburban communities. From Inyo County, California, we have Kammi Foote and Kevin Carunchio. David Orr and Noah Praetz from Suburban Cook County, Illinois. Craig Latimer and Gerri Kramer join us here from Hillsborough County, Florida. And Whitney Quesenbery and Drew Davies from the Center for Civic Design. Tiana and I are thrilled and honored to be working with this impressive team.

If you are here in Austin or tuning in to the live stream you are either an election official or you have an election official where you are registered to vote. We need your help. We are asking all interested officials across the country to help us build the toolkit. And you can participate in a couple of different ways. Using this online form we want to know what tools that have been successful in your jurisdiction. We also want to hear your ideas for tools that you wish you had. We will be accepting submissions throughout the life of the project.

Additionally, we are recruiting election officials to help us test the usability of the tools, what we are calling our test kitchen. We will begin testing this fall and test throughout the 2016 primary season to make sure the toolkit is ready in advance of the General Election. You can volunteer to join our test kitchen by using this quick online form.

We will be testing tools against four big criteria. First, each tool must be affordable, which in most cases means it will be free.

We know that because of tight budgets, election officials often wear many hats and don’t always have dedicated IT staff. That means that every tool will be tested for ease of use and paired with step-by-step written instructions.

Election officials need to know how to customize a tool so it’s relevant and meaningful to their community. Which is why written instructions will include how to modify and brand each tool so if fits the needs of a jurisdiction.

And, finally, every tool will be helpful. For example, a tool reduced voter wait times to 30 minutes. We will also include tools that have increased an election official’s curiosity in technology, because we see that as part of a positive cultural shift in election administration and local government.

We plan to feature 10 to 15 tools in the toolkit. Here are some examples to give you an idea of what to expect:

  • The local election website template which a local election official can use to clearly communicate election information online. 
  • A set of civic icons and illustrations that election officials can use online and in printed materials to help people with low literacy, people who have English as a second language, and people who are voting for the very first time navigate the election process, which can be really complicated. 
  • And the election resource calculator that election officials can use with basic inputs like anticipated voter turnout to determine how many check-in stations, how many voting stations, and how many election workers to staff at a polling place to stay below the 30-minute voter wait time recommended by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

When local election officials have access to and know how to use tested communication tools like these, we believe that we will see more informed and engaged communities. 

Our team is committed to closing our democracy’s digital divide. We’d love for you to join us. Please reach out to us via emailTwitter, and election officials can submit their ideas and volunteer for our test kitchen using the online form. 

Thank you.