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// Case Study

Reimagining Elections Administration in the US

Government accountability demands an engaged electorate. But in the United States, electoral participation is limited by systems that are out of sync with the expectations of 21st century voters.

The mechanics of American democracy are due for a modernization. Finding out how to vote, when to vote, and where to vote is too often a test of jumping through bureaucratic hoops. And a lack of standardization has hindered scalable solutions. Each of the country’s more than 10,000 election jurisdictions has its own unique systems and processes that define the voting experience locally.

TurboVote was founded by a group of passionate citizens determined to make American democracy as efficient as Amazon.com. They are building new and intuitive interfaces between voters and the electoral systems that serve them. During the 2012 election cycle, TurboVote’s one-stop online service helped almost 200,000 people register to vote and stay informed. Keen to grow their impact, TurboVote is seeking to integrate their technology directly into the government offices that administer elections around the country.

So we asked…

What are the human motivations, technological systems, and institutional landscapes that define elections administration at the most local levels, and how can we improve them?

To answer this question, we launched a six-city design research investigation into a diverse subset of election offices across the United States. We spoke with over 70 elections administrators, elected officials, good governance folks, party hacks, and voters. We mapped how users register to vote and vote-by-mail, understood the experience of being elections clerks, and identified pain points that make the voter experience burdensome.

We found that…

The solutions to many of the most pressing problems already exist, despite technology constraints and complex institutional governance.

Many of the election offices we visited are staffed with dedicated public servants who have displayed great entrepreneurship and creativity in reaching their voters. Yet leaders trying to implement the innovations they know are necessary face significant constraints. Regulatory friction, budget reductions and political influence all conspire to make electoral change difficult and slow.

“Each election is an opportunity to test something new.”

There are many cases where vision and entrepreneurship have succeeded. But these innovations often occur in isolation, preventing good ideas from spreading. If these existing solutions were surfaced, popularized and remixed, they might experience greater uptake across the country.

And here’s what we’re doing about it…

Using these research findings, we are supporting TurboVote to develop product prototypes for testing in a handful of jurisdictions later in 2013. Starting in 2014, TurboVote hopes to focus more narrowly on developing a suite of tools that will meet election officials’ needs, which can then be scaled throughout 2015 to provide voters a radically improved experience during the presidential elections in 2016. We’ll continue to post insights from the project on our blog as we explore what it takes to modernize the mechanics of American democracy.

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