News Column

Smartphone app to make voting easier

May 14, 2014

By Guy Kovner, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.



May 14--Want to save money, disseminate election information and possibly engage more young people in the democratic process?

There's an app for that.

Sonoma County Elections, a free mobile application, debuted Tuesday in time to help voters participate in the June 3 primary election.

"Everything on our website is now at the palm of your hand," said Gloria Colter, the county's assistant registrar of voters.

The app, available for downloading from the App Store and Google Play for iPhone, iPad and Android mobile devices, enables citizens to:

- Check their voter registration status and register to vote.

- Find their polling place and look up voting districts.

- View their sample ballot and voter information pamphlet.

- Apply for and subsequently track a vote-by-mail ballot.

- Check campaign finance statements for county offices.

- Obtain current and past elections results.

The app will "provide timely information for voters on the go," said Bill Rousseau, county clerk and registrar of voters.

An extension of the elections office's "going green" program, the app is expected to reduce the amount of information the county prints and mails to voters, Rousseau said.

More than 24,000 voters have opted to obtain their sample ballots and information pamphlets online, saving the county the cost of snail mail, he said.

The app also enables elections officials to send out "push notifications" advising voters of any election-related changes and notify them of registration deadlines.

Colter said the app is also intended "to engage the now generation who rely on their mobile devices for information."

To actually cast their votes, citizens must still deliver a mail-in ballot to the elections office or a polling place or fill out a paper ballot on Election Day.

Colter traced the app back to Rousseau's introduction of the "going green" initiative, including online voter registration, to the Board of Supervisors in May 2013.

"Is there an app for that?" Supervisor Shirlee Zane asked, according to Colter, who took on the task of acquiring one.

The county contracted with Purple Forge, an Ottawa, Canada-based company, to develop and support the app for $20,000, using a template the firm had developed.

Purple Forge election apps are in use by Long Beach and six Canadian cities, including Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, said John Craig, a company co-founder.

"Everything we've done has been battle-tested" in Canadian elections, he said.

Mobile devices are more than a teen or millennial fixation, with 326.4 million wireless subscriber connections in the nation, according to CTIA-The Wireless Association.

Craig said 2010 was the "crossover year" in which people began accessing the Internet more frequently on mobile devices than on personal computers.

The trend has steadily increased to the point that minutes per day on mobile apps nearly equal minutes watching television, Craig said.

Colter said she knew of two counties -- Sacramento and Santa Clara -- that had set up their own elections apps.

"It's getting to the point where everybody's got to go online," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

___

(c)2014 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

Visit The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.) at www.pressdemocrat.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)


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