Google is working to ensure that the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in late October doesn't prevent displaced residents in New Jersey and New York from finding their local polling places and casting their ballots on Election Day Nov. 6.
The massive storm washed away many homes and businesses, destroyed locations that had been used as polling places, and left tens of thousands of residents in shelters across the region, even as life slowly begins to return to normal in some areas.
The storm damage has caused officials in both states to relocate polling places and find other ways for residents to vote. To assist in the effort, Google is making apps available so that displaced voters can learn where they can now cast their ballots.
"While Americans prepare to go to the polls on Tuesday, election officials are completing last-minute moves of dozens of polling places in areas affected by Superstorm Sandy," wrote Eric Hysen, a member of the Google Politics and Elections Team, in a Nov. 5 post on The Official Google.org Blog. "Google is making this updated polling place information available through our own tools, such as the Voting Information Tool and search onebox, and also making it available to other developers and technology partners through the Google Civic Information API."
One of those Google API users, Mobile Commons, "built a custom instance of an SMS-based [Short Message Service-based] polling place locator to allow voters to send a text for the latest information," wrote Hysen. "New Jersey voters can text "WHERE" to 877-877, while New York voters can text "NYCVOTES” to 877-877 for updated locations. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have referenced the tool at recent news conferences."
Also assisting in the efforts to help voters find their polling places amid the confusion in areas hit hard by the storm are The League of Women Voters, the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, AT&T and Foursquare," wrote Hysen. "Whether you’re in New York City or Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we’re all doing our best to ensure you can access the information you need to vote."
Google efforts on Election Day also include collecting videos taken by voters to help create a video record of the day and its events across the United States. Google and YouTube conducted a similar effort on Election Day 2008 with its Video Your Vote program.
The videos taken by voters during the 2008 General Election included sometimes shaky footage of polling places, interviews with voters and more election-related, real-time coverage, usually taken by nonprofessionals. That's what Google and YouTube are expecting and encouraging on this Election Day.
To contribute your videos to the effort, you can post them on YouTube, then tweet them to @YouTubePolitics or include #YouTubePolitics in the video title.
Selected video contributions will be featured on the YouTube Elections Hub. Contributors should be aware of the state laws in their area for guidelines about what polling place activities are allowed where you live. Participants can also consult the Citizen Media Law Project’s Documenting Your Vote project before bringing their cameras to their voting precincts to ensure that they are not violating local laws.
In the 2008 Video Your Vote program, millions of videos were posted on YouTube that chronicled the experiences of voters around the nation on Election Day.
Meanwhile, voters in other areas around the nation who still need help finding their polling place locations or are looking for more information about the candidates in their communities can use Google's Voting Information Tool, which provides resources on just about everything they need to know about the elections. The tool allows users to enter their address to find information on their polling place, early voting locations, ballot information with links to candidates’ social media sites, and voting rules and requirements in their voting districts.