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electionlineWeekly — July 23, 2015

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I. In Focus This Week

Knight Foundation announces winners of News Challenge
$3.2M awarded for better ideas to inform voters, civic participation

By M. Mindy Moretti

Earlier this year, the election world was atwitter with the announcement of the Knight News Challenge — a challenge that sought projects designed to better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections.

The prize? More than $3 million in funding to make the projects come to life and hopefully encourage greater participation in the process by a more informed public.

This week, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the 22 winning projects that will split the $3.2 million. Ten of the winners will receive investments of $200,000 to $525,000 each while 12 early-stage ideas will receive $35,000 through the Knight Prototype Fund.

The Challenge is a collaboration between Knight, the Democracy Fund [which also funds electionline.org], the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Rita Allen Foundation. The Democracy Fund and Hewlett Foundation each contributed $250,000 to the challenge and the Rita Allen Foundation contributed $150,000.

According to John Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for media innovation, the challenge received just over 1,000 entries.

“We received more ideas than any other Knight News Challenge, since we have moved to a themed format,” Bracken said. “The winning projects reflect this urgency and present important ways to create sustained engagement around community issues on a daily basis.”

Many of the submitted projects, according to Bracken, focused on unraveling influence in elections and were dedicated to exploring a variety of methods for tracking, analyzing and informing the public on who is fueling campaign messages.

Bracken said that as with past challenges, Knight brought in a group of trusted independent reviewers and advisors working in journalism, civic, tech and governance to help with the decision-making process.

The winners range from the Associated Press with a project on providing less expensive and more accurate alternatives to exit polling to the Center for Technology and Civic Life’s civic engagement toolkit for local elections officials.

“We’re living the dream! We are getting paid to collaborate with an amazing team of local election officials and design experts to help increase access to civic information,” said Whitney May, co-founder and director of government services for CTCL.

CTCL, along with its project partners, is building the Civic Engagement Toolkit. The toolkit will be a website that any election official can visit to find communication tools recommended and tested by other election officials. The website will also included step-by-step instructions on how to best use each tool for the 2016 general election and beyond.

“Local election offices are a trusted source of nonpartisan civic information for voters, campaigns, and the media,” May said. “We saw the Knight News Challenge as an opportunity to work with local election officials in communities large and small so they might have access to the best communication tools available to share critical civic information and run excellent elections.”

Voting is a topic that Knight is broadly focused on in multiple programs and Bracken said the organization will continue to focus on a range of projects that help make government at all levels more open and participatory. So even if you’re project didn’t win this time, there will surely be a next time.

“Elections represent the best opportunity for Americans to shape policy and reimagine their shared future,” Braken said. “With this in mind, we hope to develop a better understanding of what strategies can result in a more informed electorate and create sustained engagement around community issues on a daily basis.”

Electionline will be following up with all the election administration-based winners in the coming weeks to look at their projects more in-depth, but in the mean time here are the 10 investment winners.

Vote-by-Smartphone by Long Distance Voter |$325,000 |San Francisco: Making it easier to vote by mail by using mobile technology to allow voters to request absentee ballots with their smartphone.

The Next Generation Beyond Exit Polls by The Associated Press | $250,000 | Washington, D.C.: Providing less expensive, more accurate alternatives to exit polling by working with survey firms to develop new ways to gauge voter preferences in real time.

2016 Political Ad Tracker by Internet Archive | $200,000 | San Francisco: Bringing accountability to the voting process by creating a public library of TV news and political advertising from key 2016 primary election states, paired with nonpartisan fact-checking and additional analysis from PolitiFact, the University of Pennsylvania’s FactCheck.org, The Center for Public Integrity and others.

Campaign Hound by Reese News Lab, University of North Carolina | $150,000 | Chapel Hill, N.C.: Helping to hold politicians more accountable through a searchable archive of campaign speech transcripts that provides customized alerts to keep voters informed about candidates and allows journalists and others to monitor political speeches remotely.

Inside the 990 Treasure Trove by The Center for Responsive Politics | $525,000 | Washington, D.C.: Helping voters and journalists better understand who is funding campaigns by partnering with GuideStar to unearth more comprehensive data on the sources of so-called “dark money.”

Revive My Vote by the Marshall-Wythe Law Foundation | $230,000 | Richmond, Va.: Helping Virginians with prior felony convictions restore their voting rights by organizing local law students to help remotely process rights restoration applications and lessening wait times for those who have applied; an outreach platform will also be developed to motivate and inform prospective applicants.

Sharp Insight by the Youth Outreach Adolescent Community Awareness Program | $250,000 | Philadelphia: Engaging black men in elections by recruiting barbers in predominantly African-American communities to disseminate nonpartisan information and resources on voting.

Civic Data Coalition by Investigative Reporters and Editors | $250,000 | Los Angeles: Making it easier to track money in California politics with an open-source tool that will help journalists, academics and others mine campaign finance data.

Civic Engagement Toolkit for Local Election Officials by the Center for Technology and Civic Life | $400,000 | Chicago: Helping local governments more easily engage with communities by developing a civic engagement toolkit for election offices, including website templates, icons and illustrations that provide visual guides for information seekers, wait-time calculators and other tools.

Informed Voting from Start to Finish by E.thePeople | $200,000 | New York: Helping build a more informed electorate and making the voting process easier by combining the voter services of TurboVote, which helps people register to vote, request and absentee ballot and receive election reminders, with local guides and candidate information from E.thePeople.

Click here for the complete list of winners including the 12 early-stage ideas.