Helping America Vote
Proving the Expanded Potential of Crowdsourcing
The best decision that the Jack Brooks Foundation made before launching the Help America Vote Challenge was to partner with HeroX. Their team of experts, innovative platform and motivated community of problem solvers were critical to the success of our first crowdsourcing competition. We were thrilled with the caliber of the three winning entries and are eager to explore other ways we can work with HeroX to leverage crowdsourcing and identify solutions to improve the voting process in the United States.
CEO, Jack Brooks Foundation
The Help America Vote Challenge sponsored by the Jack Brooks Foundation (JBF) has just wrapped up, and it was a powerful reminder of what crowdsourcing can achieve. This challenge received
98 submissions and shared a
$15,000 prize purse across three
winners. Unlike other technical
challenges that seek to solve a
specific, well-defined problem,
the Help America Vote Challenge
sought to address the multi-faceted
issue of increasing voter turnout by asking participants to both identify a problem contributing to the issue and propose a possible solution. This issue is at the heart of JBF’s mission - to empower all Americans to actively participate in the voting process during every national and local election.
It’s OK Not to Know What the Problem Is
While many challenges ask for solutions to clearly-defined problems, the Help America Vote Challenge asked participants to not only propose a solution, but to also identify what specific problem is being solved. The challenge outlined the general theme of low voter turnout and a few starting points, but otherwise participants were expected to select a problem or factor that contributes to low voter turnout and develop a solution to it as part of their entry.
First place winner Laura Miniel proposed the project Vamos a Votar, which is a controlled experimental study focused on Hispanic high school students in Texas who are or about to turn 18. Texas historically ranks among the five lowest states for voter turnout, and young Hispanics face numerous barriers to voting - including language, poverty, access to transportation, and multigenerational, non-voting households where voting goes against the family norm. Laura’s study will look at the effects of on-campus registration tables coupled with peer-grouped busing to the polls to see if they result in improved voter turnout when compared with control peer groups from similar schools. She hopes to publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal.
Being Less Prescriptive Results in Richer Challenge Success
While many technical challenges may have a very detailed list of performance specifications that a solution must demonstrate to win, the Help America Vote Challenge was more interested in the potential impact and scalability of proposed
solutions, in addition to the requirements that a solution must be non-partisan and be submitted by a citizen of the United States. This freedom allowed the community to respond with ideas that address different aspects of low voter turnout.
For example, second place winner the Spread the Vote team recognizes that over 21 million people lack the necessary ID credentials needed to vote (and get healthcare, jobs, and housing). The team partners with numerous groups and organizations to help these individuals navigate the process to get the necessary ID. Many people serving time for misdemeanors or awaiting trial are eligible to vote but don’t know it. Spread the Vote assists them by providing access to voter registration materials and mail-in ballots.
Challenges Are the Foundation for Further Things
There is sometimes a misperception that when challenges reach a successful conclusion, the problem is solved. The needed technologies are in hand, or the new ideas have been collected. But almost always, the end of the challenge is just the beginning of the next step. The Help America Vote Challenge is a great example of this. Its winning teams proposed a wide variety of approaches that tackled different aspects of the low voter turnout issue, like getting IDs, overcoming cultural barriers, and improving voter engagement within targeted communities.
But these approaches are just the start. Vamos a Votar is a study that has yet to be completed, but it has the potential to become a scalable pilot for more intervention activities. Third place winner Cole Wilson and his team at the Central Texas Civic Engagement Alliance are creating a network of organizations, clubs, and institutions to help students register to vote and become more informed about and engaged in upcoming elections. These winning efforts will hopefully result in new regions of increased voter turnout during upcoming elections.
Crowdsourcing Can Tackle the Most Difficult Problems
The Help America Vote Challenge illustrates, that crowdsourcing can take on tough, intractable problems and that these problems are sometimes solved by many different approaches running in concert rather than by one single solution. Figuring out ways to increase voter turnout has been a perennial issue for many groups, including the Jack Brooks Foundation. The results from this challenge have created connections between JBF and new groups that JBF might not have otherwise met, and they show how crowdsourcing can be a useful tool for addressing complicated issues.
So if you have a problem that you fear might not be solvable with crowdsourcing, it might be time to get in touch. Your problem just might be a better fit than you think.
JBF’s mission - to empower all Americans to actively participate in the voting process during every national and local election
The Help America Vote Challenge was more interested
in the potential impact and scalability of proposed solutions
"the end of the challenge is just the beginning of the next step"
HeroX Writer's Bench