Two new Internet sites designed to assist Illinois voters were unveiled March 9 in Chicago.
Principals from The Illinois Voter Project and BallotReady made presentations on their new websites, and answered questions from an audience during a gathering in the auditorium of the 1871 tech incubator offices inside the Merchandise Mart.
Sarah Brune, Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) spoke about the Illinois Voter Project, while Sebastian Ellefson, director of content for BallotReady, made a presentation on his company’s new BallotReady site.
Both Brune and Ellefson said they were excited at the impact they believed the two new programs, which are free and easily accessible to the public, could make on assuring a better-informed electorate.
Brune said she and her colleagues at the ICPR originally set out “to discover who is registered to vote in Illinois.” She said that while organizations like the ICPR have “a sense” of how many people were registered and voted and what areas trended Republican and Democrat, such educated guesses, she said, “aren’t data.”
A key to putting together a historical overview of primary and general election voting data sets was largely made possible by the ICPR getting access to the State of Illinois’ data banks on voter registration throughout the state.
“Those voter files are currently available only to political campaign committees,” Brune noted. The ICPR received those same files, without names and street addresses. Brune stressed the information is in aggravated form, and that individuals are not identified.
The result is the ability to map out to an incredibly high specificity where and how much people throughout the state vote in both primary and general elections.
We really want to use the Illinois Active voters map to show areas around the state where voter registration drives are needed,” she said. “To identify areas where voters need to have that specific outreach.”
It’s also made it possible to identify voting trends with near pinpoint accuracy. Mapping out the results, Brune said, “shows you clearly what the data is trying to tell you.”
Brune said such detailed, voluminous information was previously the purvue of the state and political operatives.
“Having this information available to political committees is fine,” she said, “ but it makes an inherently political drive for the people who have that information, and that’s there job.”
“Our job is to take that political drive out, and provide the voters a nonpartisan understanding of where the opportunities lie as far as voter registration.”
Brune noted that the ICPR, which was co-founded by the late Democratic Sen. Paul Simon and former Republican Lt. Gov. Bob Hruska, has long been a resource for the media, and that this latest project is intended to continue that tradition.
“We always want to be that,” she said.
Brune said The Voter Project is a work in progress, and that her organization is looking to “dig deep into the information” they receive to better inform voters, the media and other interested parties.
The website is at http://www.ilcampaign.org/ilvoterproject/
While The Voter Project aims to show citizens how people have voted in past elections, BallotReady looks to make informing oneself as quick and easy as possible.
Ellefson said the motto of BallotReady is “Vote informed on every candidate.”
The new website is the creation of Pangaea Information Technologies, a business intelligence software provider that works with businesses, public health organizations, the military and Homeland Security.
The BallotReady website allows voters to find the location of their polling place, see all the candidates who are on that election’s ballot, with a photo and a button to click for further details on each candidate. Voters can also compare candidates by both personal and professional information, and by issues.
The site also allows people to take all of the information with them into the voter’s booth on their cell phones or tablets.
“We create free nonpartisan online voter guides for people to use,” Ellefson said. He noted that voters in Illinois are represented by approximately 70 elected officials.
“How many of them can you name,” he challenged the audience. The average voter, he said, can name just four.
“That’s 66 elected officials you don’t know who they are or what they do.”
Those officials, he said, impact the state’s governance of education, health, criminal justice and the environment.”
That lack of knowledge about candidatures down the ballot leads to a majority of voters not voting in all races.
“In 2014, only about 30 percent of voters complete the whole ballot,” Ellefsen said.
“We believe people are scared to vote because they just don’t have the information,” Ellefsen said.
Many down ballot races are “under the radar,” unless, he said, there’s a high profile incident like the Laquan McDonald shooting or the Flint, Mich. water scandal.
“We want people to pay attention to these (down ballot races) all the time,” he said.
Ellefsen said BallotReady takes the drudgework and time out of gathering all the information available on numerous candidates and puts it all in once easily accessible, cross referenced format. That includes information from the Illinois State Board of Elections, media coverage and personal bio information.
Among the people endorsing and advising BallotReady is veteran Democratic political operative David Axelrod, former Republican Congressman Ray LaHood and the Institute for Politics at the University of Chicago.
The website is at https://www.ballotready.org/
— Websites offer high-detailed overviews of voting trends, candidates —