- Tech Is in the Booth with This Year's Political Campaigns
- Soldiers find an easier way to vote overseas. Election-philes get candidate news/views on the move. And could veteran House Rep. Barney Frank get unseated thanks to an IT innovation in fundraising?
Given that U.S. President Barack Obama owes much of his 2008 victory to social media and other tech-friendly campaign initiatives, it's not surprising that IT innovation is playing a lead role in this year's hotly contested battles for local, state and federal elections.
This campaign season is somewhat of a litmus test for mobile apps in particular, says Jim Eltringham of the Washington-based Advocacy Group, a firm that specializes in online and social-network tactics for campaigns and corporate public affairs. While the Carly Fiorina campaign has launched an aggressive text-messaging program, a volunteer mobile-based phone bank and a mobile app for student activists, Eltringham says many campaigns aren't yet convinced that mobile efforts are a wise investment. But mobile will be must-have for future campaigns once their effectiveness is proven during this campaign season.
"The best innovations are the ones the public doesn't see—data management run through mobile apps to keep senior campaign staff updated in real time," Eltringham says. "New technology is used to do old tactics quicker. But keep in mind that online activity still means nothing without offline action." That said, here are several tech innovations that are making an impact for this year's elections:
● Democracy unleashed. Microsoft and Democracy Live are offering LiveBallot, which allows U.S. citizens overseas to register for an absentee ballot and securely access the ballot online from any global location, as opposed to needing to rely on the international mail system. Once voters receive their ballot electronically, they can print, sign and return them to their local election official in the same manner as a normal absentee ballot. After mailing their ballot, voters can track their LiveBallot online and monitor when it is received and processed by the county elections office.
Elections officials are using LiveBallot to comply with the MOVE Act, a recently enacted federal law that requires states and territories to develop and implement measures that will make voting more accessible and reliable for citizens living or serving overseas. The law was written to make voting more convenient for soldiers, who often move frequently while stationed overseas.
● Election news junkies get fix. ElectionCaster is a mobile app from Handmark that delivers the latest in political and election news for free, available on Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and WebOS. It uses content from outlets such as top blogs, polling services, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and even localized political coverage from the user's city of choice. Also: CampaignTracker 2010 feeds to iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch users thousands of cross-searchable news articles on political issues at all campaign levels. The product's one-time price is $4.99.
● Social-media ballot primer. Let's face it, considering a position on local proposals about schools, roads and other civic needs can sometimes be confusing—especially with sometimes dense wording of each ballot as presented in the booth. Well, if you're on Facebook, InstantIMPACT will make it easier for you. It's an app that allows citizens in any state to punch up all ballot initiatives that affect their voting district. Users can review the initiatives, check out where their Facebook friends stand and share their own views on the social network site. Citizens in California can even call up top contributors for and against each proposition, as well as which public-interest groups support and oppose each initiative.
● Fundraising on the move. Nadanu has launched Campaign Raiser for Facebook, iPhone and BlackBerry, enabling campaign organizers to collect contributions and interact with supporters throughout all platforms on one site. An upgraded version allows for customized content, such as candidate biographies and news/views on current events. The basic package starts at $20 a month; the customized version starts at $199 a month.
And CharityCall has come up with mobileDonor, which also allows supporters to contribute any amount from their mobile phones. For gifts of $200 or more, the Web app requires additional steps to accommodate Federal Election Commission data-collection requirements. For campaigns, management/hosting fees apply.
"Since a large portion of our campaign communication messages are now being received over Web-enabled smartphones, it only makes sense to enable financial supporters to respond immediately from their devices," says Brian Phillips, who is managing the campaign of Sean Bielat, a candidate for Congress who is running against U.S. House Representative Barney Frank, D-Mass.