AVAIL Researchers Leverage Open Data and Social Media to Increase Voter Turnout in New York State

Their Social Voting App Puts Elected Official Information into the Palm of Your Hands

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 15, 2015) – University at Albany AVAIL (Albany’s Visualization and Informatics Lab) researchers Alex Muro and Eric Krans want to see an increased voter turnout in New York State. To help, the two have created a smartphone application to encourage participation.

Muro, an Albany resident, and Krans, who hails from Altamont, recently placed second in the AT&T Tech Valley Civic App Challenge, unveiling a mobile-optimized web application called Electorate. The app, a social voter information platform, aims at increasing the downward trending voting turnout numbers in New York by tapping into open data.

Here’s how it works: Registered voters search for their name on the app to find out information on local, state and federal elected representatives. From there, after verifying identity through a personal Facebook account, users may view their full voting history, see upcoming election information, and even endorse future candidates. They can also see who their Facebook friends have endorsed.

The ultimate goal is to increase people’s engagement in politics. In New York State, the average voter has more than 25 elected officials, yet according to Muro and Krans, information on many of these representatives is not easy to find. Their application offers both improved accessibility to information and the opportunity to gain insight from voters in their social network.

UAlbany AVAIL researchers Alex Muro (left) and Eric Krans (right) recently placed second in the AT&T Tech Valley Civic App Challenge for their web application Electorate. (Photo by Mike Nolan)

“Electorate literally puts information on elected officials into the palm of your hands,” Krans said. “The biggest impact comes when we marry easily accessible voting information with the power of existing social networks. Imagine if you could see who your friends, family and neighbors were endorsing in your local elections, or if your friends could see your endorsements. This is the goal of our application.”

Working with open source tools is nothing new for Muro and Krans. As part of AVAIL’s data science engineering team, the two spend much of their day helping clients understand complex data. AVAIL develops web-based solutions to visualize data in a number of fields, including transportation, demography meteorology, and entrepreneurial economics. Its client range from the Federal Highway Administration to New York State Mesonet.

Muro, a UAlbany graduate and senior program analyst, has been working for AVAIL since its inception in 2006. Krans joined in 2014 as a program manager, after eight years of program management at the Capital District Community Gardens (CDCG). Both agree that the UAlbany-based lab has helped them in the development of Electorate.

“The skills that we’ve been able to learn while working for AVAIL made our efforts on Electorate possible,” Muro said. “Eric and I work together in the lab. That is where the discussion started. It happens to be a great place for innovation.”

Currently, the alpha version of Electorate is available for use through desktop or smartphone. The two plan on launching a beta version by early August, which coincides with the official announcements of primary candidates in New York. The beta version will include the ability to endorse candidates, follow Facebook friends, and enable an “elected officials activity feed.”

Interested voters can visit http://electorate.io to begin using the platform. For additional information on Electorate’s functionality, view the application’s official demo.

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