Common Cause NY Idea Turned Into Award Winning App at 2 day “Hackathon”

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Susan Lerner

June 11, 2012


Common Cause NY Idea Turned Into Award Winning App at 2 day “Hackathon”

PollWatchUSA, which allows voters to use cell phones to crowd-source real-time poll monitoring, wins $1,000 First Prize at The Personal Democracy Forum’s Civil Society Hackathon.

Traditionally, poll watching and monitoring is performed primarily by representatives of the candidates and attorneys for political parties because of the expense of training and deploying enough poll watchers to cover election districts in areas where there might be issues at the polls. Most advocacy and non-profit organizations simply don’t have the resources to monitor a large number of polling sites. As a result, reporting of problems or illegal activities at polls is reported episodically, if at all, and often after the fact. It is difficult to obtain information in real time to convey to the authorities who administer the elections or to follow-up on Election Day. When there are break-downs at polling places, some voters get discouraged and leave without voting.

Common Cause NY asked why not crowd-source poll monitoring by using mobile tools? Since almost everyone these days has a cell phone, we should be able to use cell phones to crowd-source poll monitoring and reporting in real time, streamline reporting and automatically capture the data. That was the challenge which Common Cause NY brought to the PDFApplied Hackathon.

Programmers Jeremy Canfield, Volkan Unsal, John Yung, and Kathryn Peters worked with Common Cause NY staffers Sam Massol and Susan Lerner to develop PollWatchUSA, a mobile app that allows voters to report poll place problems in real time through their cell phones. The reports show up on a web-based map and can tie-into a hotline number. In competitive judging by a panel of experts, PollWatchUSA was chosen as the First Place app from among the 9 apps developed during the Hackathon.

Common Cause NY Executive Director Susan Lerner said, “We are very excited about the potential for positive impact on Election Day presented by the PollWatchUSA app. We’re very grateful to the talented team of programmers, Jeremy Canfield, Volkan Unsal, John Yung, and Kathryn Peters, who took our kernel of an idea and made it work, as well as to the Personal Democracy Forum for staging the Hackathon and awarding PollWatchUSA the first prize. We’re looking forward to working with the team to finalize the app and making it available to the public and to other groups to use on Election Day in November.”

The PollWatchUSA team will present their app to the more than 800 attendees of the Personal Democracy Forum at NYU’s Skirball Theater this afternoon.