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GlobalPost spoke with Nathan Storey, co-founder of VoteScope, an app that helps New Yorkers locate their polling station and provides information about which candidates are running for office.
NEW YORK -- As New Yorkers go to the polls today, many are still reeling from Hurricane Sandy. Some residents of Brooklyn and Staten Island remain without electricity, running water or heat. With polling places destroyed or affected by the storm, the city faces numerous challenges this Election Day.
In both New York and New Jersey, officials shuttled voters to polling booths to cast provisional ballots. President Barack Obama is predicted to win the state’s 29 electoral votes for the presidential election, but the real focus here is on who will gain control of the state senate. Polls opened at 6:00 a.m. and close at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard time.
Amid the confusion, New Yorkers are taking to the internet and their phones for information on where to vote.
What are the biggest challenges facing New Yorkers on this Election Day?
The biggest challenge is finding where to vote. In the aftermath of Sandy there are over 60 polling place changes. Even before the storm, there was redistricting so many people are still confused where to go. If you know where to vote, you might not know about local elections - there are a number of races for state senators, assemblymen and judges.
Just looking at reports, there have been some long lines, broken machines... I think there has been difficulty in organizing in general, but in New York, as well.
What areas have been most affected in New York?
The places that have been most devastated are the Rockaways, Coney Island, parts of Staten Island. Places where there is still no power, that’s where people are having the most problems.
Yesterday Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order allowing New Yorkers [affected by the storm] to vote in any polling place, but if you vote in a polling place that is not yours, you can only vote in the senatorial and presidential race. So, that measure was designed to help those most affected by the storm, but it did provide more confusion about where you should go to vote.
What is biggest misconception voters have going into this election?
In presidential election years, in general, the local elections don't get as much coverage and there isn’t as much info available. But those are also very important. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it’s great they can vote for president but I am a little surprised we can’t vote for local races at any polling station. That shows me there isn’t as much focus on them even though the results of those elections are very important to how decisions get made in your neighborhood.
For GlobalPost readers outside New York what apps or websites do you recommend to access election information?
Pollwatch, Facebook, Foursquare, and Google all have released new election apps or websites in the past few days in advance of today’s election. Google has an election map, while Facebook has a special item at the top of the news feed that provides information about your polling place. It provides most but not all information about local polling stations. One thing we tried to do with VoteScope was to aggregate from many sources not just one.
I think all these app will get better with the coming elections as more technology people collaborate with the government to provide important election information to promote civic engagement through voting.
Why did you and your three co-workers decide to create this app?
I think more people are used to communicating and getting information from new tech tools like social media and online websites and so if we want to inform people in the best possible way, we need to do it in ways that they are used to.
People are used to buying shoes online, it should be as easy to get your voter information.
How can GlobalPost readers access the VoteScope app?
From your computer or cell phone, go to votescope.us and you can enter your address and it will find your polling location. You can also learn about the candidates that are running in your local election and download a sample ballot.
We are getting our information from the NYC Board of Elections poll locator website. If you can have many people building applications, you’ll get a better user experience So we have tried to develop a seamless and easy experience.
What’s next for your team?
This beta version, available only for NYC elections, is a model we hope to develop for other areas of the country to improve civic engagement by streamlining the process. For anyone who has entered their email, after the election we will send information on who won their races. We want to help them follow up with the results and how they can get in touch with their new local officials.
Voting should be the beginning of engaging in electoral politics, not the end.