Common Cause/NY Launches PollWatchUSA in NYS: Smart Phone Crowd Sourcing Tool for Election Day

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Susan Lerner

November 2, 2012


Common Cause/NY Launches PollWatchUSA in NYS: Smart Phone Crowd Sourcing Tool for Election Day

Good govt group teams up with techies to help voters report problems at the polls

Today Common Cause/NY, Reboot, and WebSava launched PollWatchUSA, a cross-platform mobile web application to help New Yorkers across the state report problems at the polls on Election Day. PollWatchUSA is a crowd-sourcing tool, which allows anyone with a smart phone to act as a poll monitor.

“Election Day is often hampered by inefficiency and confusion, leaving voters with little recourse. PollWatchUSA was conceived to help voters report problems in real time, by putting the tool in the palm of their hands. Through crowd sourcing, Common Cause/NY hopes to collect a broad data set to better identify the issues and help create a more effective elections administration system,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

PollWatchUSA can be accessed via smart phone by going to Voters click “Report a Problem” and fill out an easy set of multiple-choice questions to identify the issue. Once submitted, the form will be reviewed by election protection workers at Common Cause/NY, who will then relay the information to the national Election Protection effort and, if necessary, the local Board of Elections. Simultaneously, the location of the report will be mapped onto the PollWatchUSA website accessible at All reports received will be later reviewed to determine trends and further action.

Although PollWatchUSA is not designed to offer a response, a user can elect to register contact information for any necessary follow up. In the event of an emergency, PollWatchUSA offers the option to connect voters to the Common Cause/NY election protection hotline where they can receive immediate assistance.

“I believe that voting is a human right, yet Americans are systematically denied that right which undermines the democratic fabric of our society. PollWatch is a means to uncover an important facet of this problem using mobile phones, which is the best technology for social change available to us today,” said Volkan Unsal, the principle developer behind PollWatchUSA and Director of Websava.

“Voting is both the fundamental act of democracy and often a far more frustrating process than it should be. As a service design firm using a human-centered approach to combat some of the world’s thorniest problems, Reboot saw this project as an opportunity to improve, in some small way, the core of American democracy,” said Jeremy Canfield, Service Designer at Reboot.

“Tools like these allow individuals and community organizations to play a larger role in the election process by acting as monitors as well as voters. These reports can help election administrators by providing early warning about problems at the polls, and increase public trust in elections where reports show that everything is running smoothly,” Kathryn Peters, Co-Founder of TurboVote, an advisor on the project.

Following the beta launch of PollWatchUSA in the September primaries for two select elections in New York City, over 500 individuals visited the mobile website. Since then, PollWatchUSA has been improved, redesigned, and made accessible to voters across the state. However, the poll look-up function may not be fully operational outside of New York City where efforts to acquire the relevant information from the state Board of Elections were met with limited success. The reporting function is intact.


PollWatchUSA was conceived in June at a Hackathon presented by the Personal Democracy Forum where it won first prize and $1,000. Together, the PollWatch team, comprised of Reboot, WebSava, and Common Cause/NY, with input from TurboVote, began meeting regularly to fully develop the mobile website for use on Election Day. The project received critical support from the Voter Information Project and Latino Justice.

Reboot is a service design firm. Reboot uses ethnographic approaches to help leading institutions develop solutions that improve lives and livelihoods.

Websava is a web and mobile development consultancy based in New York, and operated by Volkan Unsal.