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Poll worker management for Centre County, Pennsylvania

Technologies used
Custom API integration
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Project overview

  • Using Airtable to manage poll worker training and signups for Centre County, PA in 2020
  • External API integration with scheduling tool, and automations for emails
See details in NYTimes article here:
notion image
Friends, I love technology that is deceptively simple and actually helpful to human beings.
So I present to you: A new election information website for Centre County, Pa., that’s as easy to use as your favorite shopping site.
That’s it. It’s not flying cars, but it is extremely useful in a confusing election year.
This voter site and others like it were built in partnership with U.S. Digital Response, a group that started in the pandemic to match volunteers with technical expertise with local governments seeking help. It’s tech nerds putting their spare time to use.
The work of U.S. Digital Response shows that technology that does good doesn’t have to involve complicated inventions or turning over government functions to Silicon Valley giants. People with tech knowledge sometimes just need to listen to problems and assess how they can help without over complicating everything. (I mentioned U.S. Digital Response, organized in part by the technology executive Raylene Yung, in the spring.)
Michael Pipe, the chair of the board of commissioners for Centre County who oversees elections, said he heard from his peers in other counties about U.S. Digital Response and contacted the group in early September.
Within weeks, about five volunteers helped the county’s staff create the elections website from scratch, plus a database to organize the county’s poll workers and an online form for voters to schedule appointments at a satellite election site.
“It felt like it was too good to be true,” Pipe said when he heard about U.S. Digital Response.
In the past, the roughly 160,000 county residents looking online for information to register to vote, check a sample ballot or find their polling station had to hunt on the county’s main website to find the relevant information. Often, Pipe said, people couldn’t find answers to their questions and called or emailed local election officials. That was usually fine — until this year.
The pandemic, new state laws and extensive lawsuits over Pennsylvania’s election plans have made voting more confusing.
Centre County knew the status quo wasn’t good enough, and Pipe said officials hunted for commercial vendors to create a new website devoted to election information. He was quoted costs of up to $40,000, he said. The county paid nothing for the election services that U.S. Digital Response volunteers helped create.
Now, about 1,000 people a day visit Centre County’s election website, Pipe said. “It’s been about saving personnel time and a better customer service experience for our residents,” he said.
“You can’t do public policy if you can’t make the damn website work,” is how Robin Carnahan, a former Missouri secretary of state who is helping lead U.S. Digital Response’s election projects, put it to me.
Pipe said this is his 18th election as a county commissioner, and it’s a doozy. He said the new website, with clear information and election returns, is also a way for officials to build faith among voters in a year with lots of misinformation and mistrust about the election process.
Pipe is working long hours ahead of the election — the day I spoke with him, he said he returned home from work at 4 a.m. and was back at 9 a.m. — but he said he feels like it’s worth it. “I enjoy this stuff too much,” he said. “It’s like every day is Christmas.”
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