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electionlineWeekly — October 22, 2015

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

The new version of TurboVote is (almost) here!
Best practices of past will combine with different tech approach

By Kathryn Peters
Co-founder & COO, Democracy Works

There are a lot of moving parts to elections in our country. At Democracy Works, we are constantly innovating to try and make every part of those elections work better.

Many of you have probably heard of TurboVote, our flagship program that makes it easier for voters to register to vote and receive election reminders. We’re excited to tell you that TurboVote is getting smarter!

Starting early next year, we will roll out an entirely new version of TurboVote. It combines the best lessons we’ve learned from five years of helping voters to register, request absentee ballots, and remember to get out and vote. And we’re doing so using a different technological approach, one that will make it easier to remix our data and services to reach even more voters.

So what will change? Everything – and nothing.


We’re still focused on making it easier for an individual voter to navigate the elections process. But, for one example, when TurboVote first launched, only one state had online voter registration (OVR). Now, 26 states and the District of Columbia offer OVR to residents, and we’re working to improve how we integrate with those sites.

We focused on helping pass voters along to their states’ websites in as few steps as possible, and to integrate with state systems directly where we can (thanks, California!). By streamlining our workflow around OVR, we’re keeping our process as simple as possible and helping our users take advantage of improvements their state election officials are making. 

We’re also focused on hyper-local elections. We’ve adopted Open Civic Division Identifiers (OCD-ID) for defining political districts and are integrating with Google’s Civic Info API, which means we can monitor and remind voters about elections that affect even a single city council ward, or a mosquito abatement district. Because local democracy deserves our love (and participation!).

Under the hood, we’re rebuilding TurboVote not as a single application, but as a series of smaller components: notifications, voter registration, election dates and deadlines, and absentee ballot requests are all defined via application programming interfaces (APIs), which allows us to make changes to TurboVote more easily, and for other applications to use our data and services. This opens up new ways for us to interact with partners, voters, and elections officials.

These less-visible improvements will make TurboVote smarter and more responsive to the growing needs of our partners, particularly in government. We view product development as a conversation – and we’ve been listening. Standalone election notifications may make it easier for local election offices to reach their voters via text messages and email. A voter-registration API can help even non-civic technology companies promote voter engagement to their users and members. And in opening up these building blocks to others, we look forward to seeing them used in ways we haven’t even imagined yet.

Even before launch, we’re busy collaborating. In addition to the Civic Info API (and the Voting Information Project), we also teamed up with the Center for Civic Design and e.thePeople for the Knight News Challenge. We’ll be coming together to add e.thePeople voter guides to TurboVote reminders starting in 2016. These voter guides will give easy-to-understand breakdowns of candidates and issues on the ballot to equip voters with the most accurate and recent information available.

We will begin seeing these improvements early next year and we’re excited to share them with you in their completed state. 

For now, we’d like to give you an early preview of that simple, fast, OVR integration at work as it will look in the new version of TurboVote.