Headline after headline saying what our customers already know: voter data sucks. It’s inaccurate. It’s expensive. And it’s a drag on our democracy.
The United States has approximately 3,100 counties – all of which have their own way of collecting and storing voter data, from fancy online systems to writing it down and faxing it. Those counties then give the data to their state, and each state has its own collection process and format. Every step along the way, the quality of the data is deteriorating. There are no standards around what happens when somebody moves or dies or leaves the country. There are no standards, period.
The only significant efforts at building a nationwide voter file have been run by the major political parties (which control access for party gain), and corporations (which charge a lot of money for access). So if you want to run for office, you either have to fork over a lot of money or beg for access from your party – which you aren’t likely to receive if you’re challenging an incumbent. If your campaign actually has data, you’re often wasting your time contacting non-existent voters. And if you’re a voter, you might show up on election day thinking you’re registered to vote, and you’re not.
Two pillars of the democratic process are candidates talking to actual voters (not to dead people that live in another state) and citizens successfully voting. These things cannot happen without accurate and accessible voter data.
Our nation’s voter data – one of the most important components to a healthy, functioning democratic process – is in complete disarray.
The internet makes it possible to solve this intractable problem in a new way. We can put voter data back in the hands of those who own it – the American people. We can get the whole country involved in cleaning it up. We can create standardization and a common format. We can crowdsource accuracy. How?
By freeing the voter file. By making it open and accessible to everyone.
All it would take to get this started is a group of crazy democracy lovers willing to clean and compile 170 million voter records into one database.
In other words, us!
Today we are introducing the NationBuilder Election Center – a free nationwide voter file that also includes an API designed for developers. It’s available for political use by everyone and anyone. Campaigns without heaps of money or party endorsements can access it. Voters can claim their records and express their contact preferences. Developers can build applications to engage more people in the political process. And the data will become more and more accurate over time.
This has been a dream of mine for over a decade. As a developer, I wanted to build apps based on real voters, but because the voter data was locked up and expensive, it was completely impractical. Not anymore. All the pent up innovation from thousands of developers and potential startups can now be unleashed. Phone banking, canvassing, voter registration, data modeling – I can’t even imagine all the apps you will come up with. And that’s the point. No one can.
What does this mean for our customers? We do have updated data for many of you. No need to do anything just yet, we will send you an email with the option to update your nation’s data. But, to be clear, you don’t have to be a NationBuilder customer to use the Election Center. Check out the FAQ for more details.
I am so incredibly grateful and proud of the entire NationBuilder team for pulling this together. It was a massive undertaking. The day after I talked to Nate Murphy, he quit his job in Pocatello, Idaho. The day after that, he hopped in his car and drove to Los Angeles to be our Election Center Manager. Jeff Mason managed much of the data collection process, and Dan Walmsley led the best engineering team in Southern California through many late nights (and Dan is Australian, so he can’t even vote!).
We believe that the more people who participate in our democracy, the better. This means more people running for office, more people voting, and more people creating tools for civic engagement.