You can't miss the fact that an election is coming. But are you sure your voting registration is up to date?
And do you know if your polling place is the same as it was last time? Are you even in the same congressional district? (That may have changed based on the last census, in 2010.)
"Millions of voters are being asked to cast their ballot in a different location this year," said Tiana Epps-Johnson of the New Organizing Institute Education Fund.
To keep you in the know, her organization and four others have created a Web app for smartphones called Election Protection, available in app stores such as Google Play or for download from your smartphone's browser at app.866ourvote.org. (You will need that link for iPhones, because it is not yet in the App Store.)
It allows you to register to vote, find your polling place and look up laws and regulations for your state. In California for example, you have to register at least 15 days before the election. In New York, it's 25 days before. (And you still need to fill out a paper form, so you can't use the registration part of the Election Protection app in the Empire State. In fact, only 10 states allow pure online registration.)
"Don't wait till you get to the poling place to find out if you're registered," said Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, another organization behind the app.
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Election Protection is handy for anyone, but the creators are especially targeting populations — African Americans and Latinos — that they say have been underrepresented at the polling place. Some African Americans, for example, participate in "souls to the polls" by going from their churches and voting early on Sunday, said Arnwine. So they have to know their state's rules for early voting.
The app also provides a way for people to contact an Election Protection hotline for help in case they run into bureaucratic snags at the polling place.
The organizers say that they are targeting smartphones because the devices are so popular in the African American and Latino cultures they are trying to help.
"In many ways, they've bypassed the computer and gone right to their mobile phones," said Heather Smith from Rock the Vote. "And we need to take everything we've done online and move to the smartphone."
Initially, the organizations have literally taken their websites to the phone. Election Protection is a Web app — essentially a website that acts like a full-fledged app. The voter registration portion, for example, reproduces the Web forms on Rock the Vote's website.
That allows it to work on pretty much any smartphone: all it needs is an up-to-date browser. When people go to, say, the Google Play app market, they are essentially downloading an icon that they can click to launch the website.
And if voters don’t have a smartphone, they can also go the old-fashioned way and call for help at 866-OUR-VOTE.
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