Hack the Vote: Denton City Council Elections
UPDATE: A hackathon to tackle some of this has now been scheduled for this Thursday night, Feb 7 at 8:30pm at my house (322 Texas Street). Come if you want in on the fun…
The average voter age in Denton City Council elections is 63. Only 4-7% of registered voters takes the time to vote in local city elections. I’ve discussed these trends in local voting behavior elsewhere and there are certainly many theories as to why this is the case. But one thing is clear: we can be doing a better job helping interested people engage in their local democracy.
That is why, as I head into my second election season running for the District 1 seat on the Denton City Council, I’m calling on civic-minded innovators out there to join me in “hacking the vote” to increase voter participation in this May’s Denton City Council elections. If you can code, design, do web apps or mobile apps, have GIS skills, excel in data visualization, or something equally cool, why not become an instant local rock star by helping to make democracy better for your community.
Below are two problems that are in need of solutions:
PROBLEM #1: WHICH CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT AM I IN?
Every two years, the city council elections are for the four district-specific seats, meaning you are only able to vote for the city council race corresponding to the district you reside in (or are registered in). This is the first step to getting someone interested in this year’s race – they need to know what district race to pay attention to. But how?
As it stands right now, you can navigate the City of Denton website and try and find the city council district maps. You’d have to know to go to the “Government” link at the top, then select “City Council” and eventually find a link to this page of PDF maps of city districts. After several attempts at increasing the size of the map to see the street names, you will eventually be able to find where you live. But try doing this from your smart phone – you’ll probably give up.
If and when you do discover your district from this method, a problem still exists – just because you happen to currently reside within a particular council district, that doesn’t guarantee you are actually registered to vote in that district. During my last campaign, I found this problematic particularly for poorer and younger populations (under the age of 40) due to the increased likelihood of moving since they were last registered to vote in the city. What makes matters worse, because you must change your registration 30 days before an election, most people don’t discover this problem until it is too late to do anything about it.
In addition to finding out which district you happen to live in, a potentially interested voter also has to double check to make sure that is the same district listed on their voter registration. Keep in mind that the city went through a redistricting process in 2011 (since the last city district-specific council race). And the new voter registration cards issued by the county ahead of last year’s primary election season were not yet updated with the new city council district alignments. You now have to go to the Denton County voter registration database website to check on your registration status to cross-check your city district to make sure your registration corresponds with your current address – there you can find the city council district you are currently registered in near the bottom of the right-hand column. If you’ve moved within Denton since you first registered to vote here, chances are the district you live in is not the district you are registered in.
HOW CAN WE MAKE THIS EASIER? A few hacking hints: the county has voter information readily available through an open records request. You can get access to all the registered voters, their addresses, their districts, their voting history, etc. This would be helpful data to begin the process.
PROBLEM #2: I KNOW MY DISTRICT, BUT WHERE DO I FIND OUT ABOUT THE CANDIDATES?
I don’t know of a single online resource that consolidates this info into one place – just a simple district by district listing of the candidates and a link to their respective web and social media sites. The local newspaper covers the races, but typically in a way that makes pulling all the info together difficult (the stories run on separate days and their site hasn’t in the past kept a static site, accessible through their front page during election season, where such info is available. The city doesn’t put this info on their site either.