[Screenshot image via electiontools.org]
This election year, election officials will have a new collection of tools to help them engage their communities in the electoral process and improve how elections are run throughout the U.S. The Election Toolkit, an online library of resources for election officials, includes tools like a free app to measure voter wait times, guidelines on how to create short videos and infographics, and a collection of civic icons and illustrations.
All of the tools in the Toolkit are either free or low cost and come paired with step-by-step instructions, making them accessible to any election official, regardless of their budget or tech skills.
“Understanding how to use digital tools is key to effectively communicating things like law changes and deadlines to voters. And using data can help make sure that every voter’s experience is seamless,” says Tiana Epps-Johnson, Executive Director at the Center for Technology and Civic Life. “While technology can’t solve every problem, we see the Toolkit as a resource that any election office can use to manage and publish their really rich information in ways that communities have come to expect.”
Local election officials play a vital role in the civic life of their communities, but their work is often restrained by outdated technology and tight budgets. Recognizing a need for a new collection of resources in elections, the Center for Technology and Civic Life, a nonprofit based in Chicago, devised the Election Toolkit for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s News Challenge on Elections, which funds ideas that better inform voters and increase civic participation. The Election Toolkit was named one of the 22 winners of the Knight News Challenge in July 2015.
To assemble and design the Toolkit, the Center for Technology and Civic Life – along with project partners the Center for Civic Design, the Cook County (IL) Clerk, the Hillsborough County (FL) Supervisor of Elections, and the Inyo County (CA) Clerk-Recorder-Registrar – called upon the experience and expertise of local election officials.
The Toolkit partners held a workshop in December and asked election officials about their goals and challenges and about the kinds of technologies that they wish they had. After narrowing down their ideas, the officials provided feedback to shape the look and feel of the Toolkit website, and they participated in usability testing to ensure that the Toolkit would be intuitive to its target audience. The website went live on June 16.
“Today’s election officials need data and digital skills to better engage people in elections and other civic events,” says Noah Praetz, Cook County Director of Elections. “And while the tools themselves are really valuable, so is the network that’s developing in our field,” added Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer. “It’s in all of our interest to make elections as good as they can be throughout the country.”
Kammi Foote, Inyo County Clerk-Recorder-Registrar, has already successfully used the Infographic Design tool to educate voters about the California primary. “It is important to provide information to voters in ways that are easily understood,” Kammi stresses. “It is also crucial that our message extends to a wide audience. There are billions of people using social media on a daily basis. If election officials want to disseminate useful information to the greatest number of people, infographics are an obvious choice.”
With a heated presidential election coming in November, the Election Toolkit is launching at a time when election administration is increasingly under the spotlight. By advancing the important work of all election officials, the Toolkit will also help to improve the voter experience nationwide.
You are invited to visit www.electiontools.org, sign up so you can bookmark your favorite tools and leave feedback, and share the website with all the election officials in your network. You can also visit the site and recommend a tool to add to the collection.
And be sure to join the conversation about the Toolkit on Twitter using #ElectionTools.
This is a wonderful development for the field; the tools are all great, but selfishly, I’d love to see more offices use the Twitter guide, which can help offices use Twitter do more than just post a list of who’s filed to run for what office (go look at your feed – it might be you!) and engage voters online year-round but especially in the crucial weeks leading up to an election.
Thanks to Whitney, Tiana and everyone at CTCL and their partners (including Oxide Design, featured yesterday!) for this toolkit. It’s an incredibly valuable resource to a field that is going to need all the tools it can use in this high-profile presidential election year.
Stay tuned …