Local voting information should be easy to find

It takes more work to find local candidates than it should, and this is costing votes.

Municipal elections are less than a month away for Minneapolis/St. Paul, and a lot is on the line. The outcome of the 2016 election has spurred local political movements and increased awareness that local elections matter. Younger voters who have grown up in a fully digital world depend on online information and social media to learn about candidates and issues, digital access to local elections is lacking and crucial.

This is partly why I’ve spent so much of my free time working on MSPVotes. It’s an online tool that lets you access publicly available election information as a mobile-accessible website. Browse, or enter an address for detailed candidate profiles, including: endorsements, campaign activity, social media, and an analysis of campaign finances.

It’s running reliably now, and has been proven to be informative and useful, as well as a resource people are already depending on in Minneapolis elections. It has received rave reviews from local political influencers, including the moderator of the recent Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce candidate forums who cited us as being “tremendously valuable”. Knowing what data is in it, I can see it being referenced in many places: from political analysis/opinion blogs to facts announced during candidate forums.

Campaign donations

MSPVotes primarily seeks to get knowledge out there: from a basic understanding of candidates, to finer points in campaign finance. As it is now, city campaign finance records are mainly locked away in non-machine readable PDFs: so, our initial data entry task had to focus on noteworthy contributions. These were defined as donations coming from people who routinely donate to many candidates, and in many elections; local politicians and prominent individuals.

The data is also categorized by employer, and some familial relationships are included: for example, when it was obvious that several family members together were donating to specific candidates.

In an ideal world, we’d just upload a CSV and focus on tagging all donor data, but for now, this is the best slice of information to see. We’ve supplemented it with other campaign finance highlights to give a sense of how many donations were small amounts and non-itemized (less than $99), vs. the larger itemized donations.

PLZ VOTE

In the corner of your screen, you might notice a cute begging kitten imploring you to vote. Contained within is a portfolio of memes to share to get your friends to find their candidates and vote. It’s 2017, and half of our lives are online now: so online voter outreach is important. Brace yourselves though, the GIFs are coming!