University at Albany Researchers Create App to Increase Voter Turnout

Voter turnout is on a downward trend in the state of New York, so researchers used open data to create an application that puts campaign information at voters' fingertips.

by Dartunorro Clark, Times Union, Albany, N.Y. / July 23, 2015
Parents in New York City can now check on their students' attendance and other data from their phone on a mobile-friendly website. Garry Knight via Flickr C.C. 2.0

(TNS) -- Two University at Albany researchers are working on a desktop and smartphone app called Electorate, which aims at increasing voter turnout in New York.

Alex Muro of Albany and Eric Krans of Altamont, researchers at the Albany Visualization and Informatics Lab at UAlbany, wanted to see increased voter turnout, which is on a downward trend in the state, so they used open data to create an application that puts campaign information at voters' fingertips.

"Electorate literally puts information on elected officials into the palm of your hands," Krans said. "The biggest impact comes when we marry easily accessible voting information with the power of existing social networks. Imagine if you could see who your friends, family and neighbors were endorsing in your local elections, or if your friends could see your endorsements. This is the goal of our application."

The app, which placed second in the recent AT&T Tech Valley Civic App Challenge, allows registered voters to search for their name on the app to find out information on local, state and federal elected representatives. Additionally, it allows users to verify and link their voting record with their Facebook account to display their full voting record and history, see upcoming elections and endorse candidates and also see who their Facebook friends have endorsed.

The app is in the beginning stages. The alpha version of Electorate is available for use through desktop or smartphone. Muro and Krans said they plan on launching a beta version by early August, which coincides with the official announcements of primary candidates in New York. The beta version will include the ability to endorse candidates, follow Facebook friends, and enable an "elected officials activity feed."

Muro and Krans said the ultimate goal is to increase people's engagement in politics. The average voter in the state has a choice of more than 25 elected officials, according to Muro and Krans, but the information on many of these representatives is not easy to find. They said their application improves voters' accessibility to information and also allows them to gain insight from friends in their social network.

Both said they owe the app's creation and development to working at the UAlbany-based lab, where they are a part of the data science engineering team. Muro, a UAlbany graduate, has been with AVAIL since its inception in 2006. Krans joined in 2014 as a program manager.

"The skills that we've been able to learn while working for AVAIL made our efforts on Electorate possible," Muro said. "Eric and I work together in the lab. That is where the discussion started. It happens to be a great place for innovation."

©2015 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.