The future of voting could be as simple as scrolling through your phone. That’s thanks to the latest invention from the Manayunk-based Intuitive Company.
The company’s app, titled Intuitive Voting, would not only educate voters on candidates and issues but also instruct election volunteers on how to operate the polling booths through a streamlined, instantly accessible web portal.
“Even if you’re an informed, motivated, educated voter, when you go to the polling place, often it’s the first time you see or read or hear who all is actually running,” said Rob Tannen, th researcher at Intuitive Company who spearheaded the app’s development.
In Jan. 2014, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration released its report on the design of ballots, training of poll workers, and expansion of online voter registration.
The response prompted an innovations competition during which developers would create an interactive user experience that redefines how Americans vote.
Intuitive Company accepted the challenge as a pro-bono side project and spent six months planning, conducting its own field research through interviews with poll workers and voters during last May’s primary election.
“It was kind of under the radar, but it’s in alignment with a lot of other work that we do,” said Ed Hertzog, a developer at Intuitive Company. The organization has focused on digital product design primarily for financial services throughout the past decade.
“We identify user needs and implement the latest technologies that have widespread adoption on mobile and desktop platforms,” Hertzog said.
This project was of particular interest to Hertzog who graduated from Penn State University with a degree in political science before transitioning into the technology field.
He and his fellow developers finished the design in “a good two weeks.”
“This isn’t about creating new content,” Tannen said. “It’s about taking content that’s available, filtering it, and delivering it in a more effective way.”
The team broke down the design strategy into three categories: a first time voter who needs to register and subsequently vote in person; an experienced voter who needs to request and submit an absentee ballot; and an election volunteer who needs training to perform tasks on election day.
They created a series of detailed wireframe screens which documented the app’s screen layout, navigation, content and interaction. Both novice and experienced voters tested out the usability of the app for evaluation and refinement.
For most efficiency, the app was divided into a voter section and a volunteer section. Voters can have their candidates selected on their phones ahead of time and then scan the app’s barcode at the poll for instant ballot submission. There would also be estimated waiting times at the polling stations based on respective area histories as well as locations for parking availability.
The volunteer section presents the instructions in a digitized format as a quick, in-your-pocket reference.
“It’s true that if you don’t have a smartphone this won’t help you, but it’s likely that someone else volunteering with you will have a smartphone and can show you the information,” Tannen said.
The Intuitive Company won the competition, dubbed Voting System of Tomorrow, and then entered a similar competition sponsored by the Knight Foundation to obtain funding to produce a pilot of the app.
However, Intuitive Company didn’t advance and remains without funds to further develop the product.
“The city doesn’t have the money to invest in the app,” Tannen said. “And I’m not sure how a private company would get return on it.”
“If you want money to fund something like this, it would probably have to come from a campaign, which is obviously the opposite of being impartial,” Tannen added.
“But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be useful.”