Ahead of the 2016 election season, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters will be expanding its Vote411.org service with the help of new funding from the Knight Foundation. The Vote411.org site provides a rundown of election information including voting hours, locations, candidates, and voter guides, with information from the candidates themselves about where they stand on the issues.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is investing $100,000 to support new delivery tools for VOTE411. The organizations say that with the money they will be able to reach at least one million more people – including 200,000 from underrepresented groups. VOTE411 is a fully digital operation, and will be expanding its focus to include more outreach through mobile, says Elisabeth MacNamara, Chair of the League of Women Voters Education Fund, in an interview with <em>CivSource.</em>
Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest of all established democracies. The 2014 election had a 42 percent turnout rate, the lowest since 1942. One of the more common reasons why people don’t vote is a lack of information.
“We are in an era right now where it is very difficult to get basic information out there about who is on ballots, who can vote, and when they can vote. The funding will help us expand the site to include more down ballot information and hopefully improve voter turnout. It’s very hard for people to vote the whole ballot when they don’t know who the candidates are,” she explains.
The League of Women Voters has run VOTE411.org since 2006. Since its creation, nearly 20,000 websites have linked to the site and 25 million people have accessed the information. The League anticipates that three million people will use the site in 2016, up from two million in 2012, the last presidential election year.
In 2014, the League of Women Voters tested an embeddable application that would allow media outlets, government agencies, elections officials and nonprofits to share VOTE411 information on their websites. Money from the Knight Foundation will be used to expand these relationships.
The funding grew out of the League’s application to the most recent Knight News Challenge. “We met representatives from the League of Women Voters at a Knight News Challenge information event in Miami earlier this year, and they put us in touch with their colleagues in Washington D.C. Because we were aware of their work with newspapers and news organizations, we encouraged them to come up with some ideas for the elections News Challenge,” Shazna Nessa, Knight Foundation director for journalism tells CivSource. “They entered the challenge and although their challenge pitch didn’t make it to finals, they came back to us later with another idea that was aligned with our interest in the transition from print to digital and expanding access to nonpartisan information about elections and candidates with new digital delivery tools.”
Going forward, the League plans to keep raising funds for the website’s expansion. “This information is important to the public,” MacNamara says. “Every year is an election year somewhere in America.”