If you’ve turned on the news recently you’ve no doubt been inundated with stories about the upcoming presidential election. It seems there’s hype from all sides, but no matter what your political opinions may be, at the end of the day, we all exercise our civic rights by doing one thing: voting. Simple? Yes. Convenient? No. That’s something that IT experts in Collin County, Texas, are hoping to change with an app to connect local voters with polling places that have short lines to make the process as speedy as possible.
Since Collin County participates in voter centers, residents have the flexibility to vote at any polling place within the county. However, with little public awareness on the issue, voters still found themselves waiting in long lines to cast their ballots. That’s why the Collin County GIS department developed and launched the Voter Line Wait Application as a simple way to show voters their polling location options.
Here’s how it works: Voters scan a QR code to launch the application, which then shows them if they are at a busy polling place, indicated by red, yellow or green. Voters can also view options for other polling places to compare wait times and are provided directions to get there.
While data on the app's success is limited due to voter privacy restrictions, there's a clear correlation between election days and page views on the Collin County website. For example, data from Election Day on March 1 shows an uptick in website usage by 4.6 times the normal daily levels. What’s more, 57,340 routes to polling places were generated through the app for this year's primary election.
Senior Application Manager Tim Nolan spearheaded the app project and is confident that other counties struggling with long wait times can implement similar solutions to alleviate voter frustration.
“If you think about this pragmatically, we think that this is a geography problem that we can solve,” he said. “This was not difficult to create. There are templates out there already that tell you how to route to your polling centers. There are many things counties can do to help their citizens.”
While the GIS department plans to continue to develop improvements as needs evolve, the app has already been recognized for excellence and has won a Best of Texas award (2014), Texas Association of Governmental Information Technology Managers award (2014) and a URISA Exemplary Systems in Government award (2015). Looking ahead, the department is focused on enhancing awareness of the QR code to further increase convenience for voters.
While the app is a relatively simple tool, it highlights the influence and purpose that government agencies can have within their communities. “Elections are universal; we’re all in this together,” Nolan said. “A county can really engage with its citizens without feeling like it’s imposing. For people that find purpose in serving, they can see elections as really contributing with just a little bit of technology. For those that have technology, they can use it and we’re making life a little bit easier.”