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electionlineWeekly — June 21, 2018

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

A site grows in Brooklyn
The Voting Information Project moves to Democracy Works, Inc.

By M. Mindy Moretti
Electionline.org

This week, following a months-long process, The Pew Charitable Trusts and Democracy Works, Inc. announced that Democracy Works will be the new organizational home of the Voting Information Project (VIP). The transition was effective Monday, June 18.

“We are honored to follow The Pew Charitable Trusts as the new stewards of this important program, and excited to build on the work that’s been done for the past 10 years,” said Maria Bianchi. Bianchi previously served as the project manager for VIP within Democracy Works, she will now serve as the program director. “

Democracy Works has been working on VIP since 2014, and Bianchi said Democracy Works is committed to preserving the great partnerships that have been established with states. The experience for participating states will not change. Additionally, the data will continue to be a free resource available through the Civic API.

“In the four years that we have managed the project’s data and technology components, Democracy Works has embraced VIP’s future as our own,” Bianchi said.

Founded in 2008 as a joint effort of state and local officials, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Google, VIP uses an open format to make election data available and accessible to a variety of platforms, bringing cutting edge technology to ensure that all eligible Americans have the information they need to cast a ballot.

“When we launched VIP in 2008, our goal was that every American would be able to use simple technology to find out voting information,” says Doug Chapin who directs the Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the University of Minnesota and help found the project while at Pew. “And today, they can.”

Since its inception, VIP has hit numerous milestones:

  • In 2016, VIP received more than 120 million impressions from voters looking for election information.
  • 10 states now use the customizable, embeddable VIP tool. 
  • In 2017 alone, VIP covered 165 elections at the state and local level. 
  • The VIP embeddable tool is offered in 17 languages, including, English, Spanish, Amharic, Chinese, Hindi, Hmong, Japanese, Karen, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Oromo, Russian, Somali, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.

“We are excited to support the next chapter of the Voting Information Project and are thrilled to be working closely with Democracy Works,” said Megan Ryskamp, who leads civic partnerships for Google. “We believe that making the world’s election information accessible and useful is important for democracy, and have been excited to contribute over the last decade.”

While VIP is now available in 46 states and the District of Columbia, some folks weren’t so sure about it when it first launched a decade ago.

“At first, I was unsure of how useful the VIP could be,” said Pasco County, Florida Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. “I had this ridiculous belief that voters in my jurisdiction would primarily utilize my own website for voting information. I then realized that contrary to my ego, voters were a tad more likely to use Google to find voting information. This of course is in addition to GetToThePolls.org and the Civic API. Bottom line, it helps voters get invaluable information in an efficient in a convenient manner and helping their most important stakeholder (aka The Voters) is the primary goal of any and all in the elections administration arena.”

Corley was a member of the VIP Planning Group to help determine what the next steps for VIP should be as Pew was phasing out its elections work.

“One of the primary concerns of the Planning Group was finding a stable and established organization that could not only sustain the VIP but take it to a higher level. Clearly, Democracy Works is that organization and I’m confident they will take the VIP and make it even better. I’m excited to see where they take it,” Corley said.

So what’s next for VIP and how might it change Democracy Works? It will cost Democracy Works about $2 million a year to keep VIP up and running and Bianchi said that will be core to both the organizations regular fundraising efforts and a dedicated fundraising push to create a strategic group of foundations and tech companies that can advise and support the work in the years to come.

Bianchi said Democracy Works is looking forward to growing VIP over the coming years, especially at the local level.

“I’m especially passionate about expanding our support for local elections. Our vision is that voters should be able to find this information for every election they’re eligible to vote in,” Bianchi said.