For Voters Who Need Help, Sites And Apps Aplenty

Confused where to vote Tuesday? Don't know the rules? Not sure if you're even registered? There are loads of websites, Twitter feeds and mobile phone apps out there to help you.  

In fact, just about every election office in the country these days has a website where voters can get basic information — such as polling times and how to cast a ballot. Many can direct you to your polling location and, if you provide some personal information, tell you whether you're officially registered.

On Tuesday, Tell Us What You See

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, NPR will be monitoring posts that include the tag #iVoted, which is being used by a number of election projects. So if you have any election stories — or voting problems — you want to share, please feel free to use that tag so we can track it.

Some other online resources:

— The League of Women Voters

Can I Vote.org, a project of the National Association of Secretaries of State, which also has links to voter hotlines and other resources

Voto Latino, which says it focuses on "the unique needs, experiences and motivations of the nearly 50,000 American Latinos that turn 18 and become eligible to vote each month"

— The U.S. Election Assistance Commission

Some national sites are available to help fill in the gaps.

Help isn't hard to get. Ask a very simple question — such as "Where do I vote in Virginia?" — on Google, or some other search engine, and a lot of useful  information comes up, says Doug Chapin, director of election initiatives with the Pew Center on the States.

A voter entering that query is directed to the Virginia State Board of Elections website, where the home page shows a big box with a map that can tell an individual not only where his or her polling site is located but how to get there. It also shows all the federal candidates on the ballot and directs voters to other helpful links. 

It's part of something called the Voting Information Project, developed by Pew and Google. They also have a mobile phone app that provides similar information, plus photos of polling sites.  

"Giving people a convenient source of official information should reduce the number of problems at the polls — misdirected voters, confused voters, that sort of thing," Chapin says.  

Lester Sola, supervisor of elections for Miami-Dade County, Fla., says he is already seeing better-prepared voters this year because of information posted on his county's website. It included wait times — updated every 15 minutes — for the county's early-voting locations. Miami-Dade voters can also track their absentee ballots online, finding out whether the ballots have been received by election officials and counted. Sola says that's a big change from earlier elections.

"There was no way for a voter to track their absentee ballot previously," he says. "If they wanted to know if their ballot was accepted, they would have to call our office and then research would have to be made, sometimes even actually going through thousands of envelopes to find that one voter."

The county, like many others, is also using Twitter and Facebook this year to communicate with voters. Just last week, Sola's office tweeted that Miami Heat basketball star Dwyane Wade had voted early, in the hope that the message would encourage others to do the same.

"Anything that we can do to increase voter participation, we're behind and support it," says Sola.

And there are other tools available for voters to use on Tuesday. In California, Orange County will be posting live video of its workers counting votes. A poll-watching effort called Election Protection is asking voters to tweet any Election Day problems they encounter, like long lines or intimidation. 

Another group, called American Majority Action, is providing a free mobile phone app that voters can use to report any incidents of fraud they see at the polls.   

"We're putting this out as a civic service to make sure that we enable greater transparency and just to make sure that we're defending democracy," says Ned Ryun, a spokesman for the American Majority Action project.

Some people question, though, whether lots of citizens armed with smart phones at the polls will enhance or impede democracy. So you might want to check first online to see what restrictions there are on using phones or taking photos at your local polling site.

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