To help voters find their polling places in the 2012 election, Google partnered with the Voting Information Project (VIP) to create the free Google Voter Information web tool that delivers election information to voters in one place: The gadget integrates Google Map data with VIP’s data feeds to offer location-based information. Web managers place the tool on websites by embedding HTML code on the backend.

The gadget arms taxpayers with information preparing them for Election Day on Nov. 6. They discover where the nearest polling place is, how much candidates spend on ads, how often candidates are searched on the Web, and what people think of the candidates through online survey results. The gadget also provides links to Web pages containing information about the candidates and election news, in case citizens need information about the candidate they’re voting for.

“It aggregates a lot of information that voters would need in one place, but it also makes it so you don’t have to search for this information,” said David Becker, director of election initiatives at Pew Research Center. “Previously, it was very hard to find information on where to vote. It still is in some states. People don’t normally go to their county elections website for information.”

Pew partnered with Google to create the VIP in 2007 to help voters find official election information, like where they could vote and if they needed to bring ID to a polling place. Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T and Foursquare have joined the partnership in successive years. Voting information is on government websites, but most voters don’t visit them to learn about elections, according to Becker.

“Google and Pew formed a partnership to solve this problem, find a way to get the official information that already existed in state and county election offices and deliver it to voters in places where they look for it most frequently,” he said.

The embed code is a convenient way to disseminate Google’s tool and put voting information anywhere, and that’s just one of multiple free delivery mechanisms the VIP’s working on currently. Microsoft has also developed a similar gadget, the Microsoft Polling Place Locator Tool, that uses the Bing search engine and mapping platform instead of Google’s.

AT&T’s VoterHub mobile app, also created under the VIP umbrella, is available on mobile devices as well as the web. The app puts a wealth of voting information and resources, including an election calendar, a voter registration link and ballot information, on someone’s phone. Users share data about their VoterHub activity on social media platforms like Facebook, Foursquare and LinkedIn.

The companies invested their own time and resources into creating these tools, and no money has been exchanged among them.

“It’s basically a loose partnership of companies who all want to provide a service to the public,” Becker said. “It’s offered for free, there’s no profit that’s coming as a result of the Voting Information Project as a whole.”

Even though elections end, the tools won’t. There’s always some kind of government campaign somewhere, so the voting information technology’s usefulness will continue after Americans decide who their next president will be Tuesday.

“There are runoff elections, primary elections [and] special elections," Becker said, "so even in an odd-numbered year like 2013, there are going to be places where elections are going to be held."

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Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.