Knight Foundation Picks Winners in its News Challenge on Elections


A handful of voting and elections focused projects are receiving new funds from the Knight Foundation after successful competition in the Knight News Challenge on elections. The foundation is awarding $3.2 million in grants and prototype funds to startup aimed at improving civic engagement and providing better information to voters.

Winners were announced at a convening hosted by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at The University of Texas at Austin’s Moody College of Communication.

Ten of the winners will receive investments of $200,000 to $525,000 each while 12 early-stage ideas will receive $35,000 each through the Knight Prototype Fund, which helps people explore early-stage media and information ideas.

Launched in February, the challenge is a collaboration between Knight, the Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Rita Allen Foundation. The Democracy Fund and Hewlett Foundation each contributed $250,000 to the challenge, and the Rita Allen Foundation contributed $150,000.

“What we wanted to do with this challenge was look not just at pure journalism but ways to get information to the public to improve civic engagement and help people get to the polls,” explains Chris Barr, Director of Media Innovation at the Knight Foundation in an interview with CivSource. 

“We saw a lot of energy around tracking and uncovering influence in the electoral process, as well as getting information to voters. We think the project mix this time around highlights those themes.”

The winners include:

Vote-by-Smartphone by Long Distance Voter | $325,000 | San Francisco

The application makes it easier to vote by mail by using mobile technology to allow voters to request absentee ballots with their smartphone.

The Next Generation Beyond Exit Polls by The Associated Press |$250,000 | Washington, D.C.

Provides less expensive, more accurate alternatives to exit polling by working with survey firms to develop new ways to gauge voter preferences in real time.

2016 Political Ad Tracker by Internet Archive | $200,000 | San Francisco

Brings accountability to the voting process by creating a public library of TV news and political advertising from key 2016 primary election states, paired with nonpartisan fact-checking and additional analysis from PolitiFact, the University of Pennsylvania’s, The Center for Public Integrity and others.

Campaign Hound by Reese News Lab, University of North Carolina |$150,000 | Chapel Hill, N.C.

Helps to hold politicians more accountable through a searchable archive of campaign speech transcripts that provides customized alerts to keep voters informed about candidates and allows journalists and others to monitor political speeches remotely.

Inside the 990 Treasure Trove by The Center for Responsive Politics |$525,000 | Washington, D.C.

Helps voters and journalists better understand who is funding campaigns by partnering with GuideStar to unearth more comprehensive data on the sources of so-called “dark money.”

Revive My Vote by the Marshall-Wythe Law Foundation | $230,000 |Richmond, Va.

Helps Virginians with prior felony convictions restore their voting rights by organizing local law students to help remotely process rights restoration applications and lessening wait times for those who have applied; an outreach platform will also be developed to motivate and inform prospective applicants.

Sharp Insight by the Youth Outreach Adolescent Community Awareness Program |$250,000 | Philadelphia

Engages black men in elections by recruiting barbers in predominantly African-American communities to disseminate nonpartisan information and resources on voting.

Civic Data Coalition by Investigative Reporters and Editors | $250,000 |Los Angeles

Makes it easier to track money in California politics with an open-source tool that will help journalists, academics, and others mine campaign finance data.

Civic Engagement Toolkit for Local Election Officials by the Center for Technology and Civic Life | $400,000 | Chicago

Helps local governments more easily engage with communities by developing a civic engagement toolkit for election offices, including website templates, icons and illustrations that provide visual guides for information seekers, wait-time calculators, and other tools.

Informed Voting from Start to Finish by E.thePeople | $200,000 | New York

Helps build a more informed electorate and making the voting process easier by combining the voter services of TurboVote, which helps people register to vote, request an absentee ballot and receive election reminders, with local guides and candidate information from E.thePeople.