Online Voter Registration for Jurisdictions Large and Small (Part 2)
My last posting was a bit of a cliff-hanger (sorry) for the claims that:
- We’re doing useful work to enable NGOs and election officials to offer online voter registration assistance to voters …
- … without doing a major acquisition or system integration of the scale that VA is doing now (with OSDV help) or that WA has done or CA is doing in a similar way …
- … but rather using a middle way, between those large projects and the “download this PDF to fill out by hand” kind of support.
The key here is to enable election officials to extend a major change in usability, while spending modest time and effort to quickly stand up an online voter registration assistance service.
As I wrote earlier, we took the first step a few weeks ago when we went live with a new release of the “Rocky” OVR assistance system operated by RockTheVote and hosted by Open Source Labs. The main feature of the new release was a web services application programming interface (API) that provides other web applications with access to all of Rocky’s functions for voter registration assistance. Now it is time for me to connect the dots from there to actual benefit for voters and election officials — starting with an explanation of what the API is.
If you take a test drive of “Rocky” you will see a human interface for people and their browsers to interact with Rocky. By contrast, the programming interface is for other web sites to interact with Rocky, or indeed any software including mobile apps and FaceBook apps. Another web site could implement its own separate human interface — different branding, different workflow — while a mobile app could assist the user by pulling information stored on the mobile device. But either way, the web site or mobile app does not need to have any back-end. Instead, they rely on Rocky for checking user data, constructing PDFs, storing registrant data, sending email reminders, and so forth.
As a result, we’ve substantially lowered the cost in time and effort for any elections officials or NGOs to develop and deploy their own online-voter-assistance system, by opening up Rocky to be the back-end for these systems, so that all the complexity — and cost of deployment! — of the back-end functionality just drops out of these systems. No database to set up and manage, no computational heavy lifting. For organizations that already have a web site, it can be as simple as adding one or a few new forms pages, with a link to Rocky that will submit the voter’s registration information, and present back to the user the PDF with their completed form and mailing instructions.
Any organization can use Rocky via the API in this way, including local elections offices that already have a Web site that they can update to use the Rocky API. And for local election officials in particular, there is an additional benefit. Via the API they can obtain a digital copy of the voter registration form data, and a tracking number. When the signed paper form arrives in the mail, they can type or scan in the bar-coded tracking number, and get the form data, so that they don’t have to retype all the information on the form — a time consuming (and in peak voter registration season, expensive) task with much scope for human error.
There’s a lot to like about this approach, but it gets even better. In an upcoming release there will be even more features that will help organizations have the very own Rocky OVR system, but without having to have an existing web site that is easy to modify. Depending on how fancy an elections org wants to customize the look and feel, it could be a matter of a couple hours work to get up and running. Even better! More on that when the system is live.