What Is Voter Suppression
Voter suppression is rampant throughout the United States. It can manifest in many ways, including denial of a citizen's right to vote, as per the 15th Amendment, and/or any attempt to coerce or influence an individual to vote (or not vote) a certain way. Currently there is no way to track specific incidences of voter suppression by location or in real time, and many people are unsure of how to respond when they experience it first hand. In December 2016, I participated in a Debug Politics hackathon in San Francisco, where I designed a solution to address this crisis.
Platforms: SMS, Facebook Messenger
My responsibilities for this project included researching the problem space, concept ideation, copywriting, fact-checking the laws with expert volunteers, designing user flows, and prototyping.
What are Some Forms of Voter Suppression?
Voter suppression can be difficult to identify if you're unfamiliar with the voting laws in your state. Often, it may appear perfectly legal on the surface, but voter suppression laws are meant to create significant burdens for eligible voters trying to exercise their most fundamental constitutional right. These laws disproportionately harm students, the poor, and people of color, and lawmakers pushing such policies have even explicitly stated that their goal was to suppress voters favoring the Democratic Party. In order to figure out how I might design a solution to help voters experiencing voter suppression in real-time, I researched these common manifestations:
Strict I.D. laws
Intimidation and harassment
Challenging voter eligibility
Disinformation about voting procedures
Inequality in election day resources
Changing multi-lingual voter assistance
Deadlines for voter registration
Voter caging (challenging registration status) and purging
Jim Crow laws (ex: poll taxes, literacy tests)
Reducing and overcrowding polling locations
Changing polling locations last minute
Changing polling hours
Eliminating early voting days
...and so on!
So... How Might We Fight Voter Suppression?
Recruit volunteers to assist voters on Election Day
Respond immediately to incidences of voter suppression
Inform voters of their rights in real time
How Might We Raise Awareness?
Use location data to map reported incidents of voter suppression in real time
Measure the impact in each district and across the United States
Analyze the data and use the data to influence policy that affects voting rights
VoterAid: Chatbot to the Rescue
How Does VoterAid Work?
ANYONE WITH A PHONE HAS ACCESS
Voters text "Voteraid" to a number - this works regardless of whether they have a smart phone (Voteraid supports SMS). Voters can also access Voteraid via Facebook Messenger.
PARSING VOTING LAWS
Voteraid uses location data and a database of state voting laws to generate automated responses that help voters understand their rights.
TALK TO A HUMAN
Some issues may be too complex or sensitive to resolve via a chatbot. VoterAid refers voters to Responders when they need additional help.
Who is a Responder?
A "Responder" is a volunteer who helps users understand what's legal and what's not. They differ from Poll Watchers (also called Observers, Scrutineers, or Challengers, depending on state) in that they simply clarify voting laws to voters; they do not observe the voting process. Poll Watchers can also clarify voting laws; however there are many restrictions in place regarding who is eligible to become a Poll Watcher, and how many are allowed per precinct (for example in Michigan, the number of Poll Watchers allowed per precinct is only 2). By recruiting "Responders" who are not bound by these restrictive laws, more people are able to provide immediate assistance to those who need it.