The Washington Post

New Hampshire voters use smartphone app to report incidents to NHCLU

Bob Lenzi helps voters into a booth at a polling station in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

Tens of thousands of New Hampshire voters brought more than just their photo identification to the polls this year.

They also brought their smart phones, on which they had downloaded the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union’s free Voter App, developed by Washington, D.C. based start-up CrimePush. The app has two main functions — to educate voters about what to bring to the polling station, and to allow voters to report voting irregularities (with audio, video, and photographic evidence) directly to the NHCLU via e-mail or phone. Tuesday’s election served as the app’s first real test-drive.

The app had approximately 75,000 downloads, according to the NHCLU.

One user in Litchfield, N.H. noticed a person sitting near the ballot station, seemingly unassociated with the balloting committee. “He had his own list of what looked like registered voters and was marking it off when the clerk called out my name. I thought it was disturbing that anyone else had the appearance that they had a right to know who was voting,” the report said. There was no visual evidence attached.

Another report from Manchester indicated “really long lines” and that people were leaving because they “have been in line for over 4 hours.”

NHCLU President Albert Scherr has been receiving and processing these reports, occasionally responding to them himself. Between e-mails, photographs, videos and phone calls, he estimates about 50 or so reports came in during this election cycle.

The app also included a feature allowing users to call the New Hampshire attorney general’s office directly. While CrimePush can’t ascertain which calls to the office originated from the app, the attorney general’s office did report a marked increase in call volume during this election, Scherr said.

Given the high volume of downloads and relatively low volume of reports, Scherr said he thinks the app’s education function — letting voters know when to register and which documents to bring to the polls — was more useful than the incident reporting function.

“We were curious whether the crisis management or education [function] would be the most popular piece to it. The availability of a crisis management tool may [have] got people to go to the polls,” Scherr said.

The app emphasizes to users that they may not collect evidence of voting irregularities secretly, and that they must tell the official they are doing so. Users can also only collect evidence surrounding their personal encounters, as other individuals’ encounters are likely private to them.

“People were calling on their way to the polls to find out if they had what they needed. We had relatively few people who were calling or e-mailing us because they were having particular problems at the polls,” he said.

Scherr and CrimePush are still figuring out how to improve the app for the next election season, though it’s early. They’re considering expanding its reach to other states, or trying to simplify the incident reporting element, which wasn’t widely used.

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