Overview

NYC Votes transformed the way New Yorkers interact with political candidates.

Results

NYC Votes is a first-in-the-nation public-private partnership to promote voter registration, participation and civic engagement in elections through technology. Pivotal Labs, along with Method and AppOrchard, helped the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) and its Voter Assistance Committee (VAAC) create a mobile website that will streamline the political process for voters and candidates alike.

Through its public matching funds program, the CFB seeks to counteract the role of big money in the political process by encouraging candidates for City office to raise small contributions from everyday New Yorkers. VAAC’s mission is to increase civic engagement in all local elections, by encouraging more New Yorkers to register and vote. The NYC Votes project sought to lower the barriers to meaningful participation by making the political process as accessible and convenient as any e-commerce application.

The first release of the app, the Candidate Contribution Tool, launched on the 4th of July. It empowered candidates and campaign staffers to collect and process credit card contributions on their mobile phones. Instead of handling checks and manually entering data into the CFB’s reporting software, candidates can use the app to export the necessary data and upload it directly into the CFB’s system, simplifying compliance with legal requirements. Dozens of candidates are now using the tool.

In its second release, the Voter Tool provided voters the ability to see who’s on the ballot in their district, view the candidates’ official Voter Guide profiles, and leverage social networks to let them interact with candidates. It also allows votors to make contributions to the candidates of their choice, and directs them to their polling place on Election Day.

“Pivotal Labs has a long history of supporting technology projects that have had a significant impact on the civic technology landscape. I was thrilled when they stepped up to take on this groundbreaking project.”
Art Chang, Founder, Tipping Point Partners and Chair, NYC Voter Assistance Committee

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Process

A critical requirement of NYC Votes was enabling credit card contributions; we used Stripe Connect, a third-party payment processing product. Stripe collaborated with us to make the changes we requested, improve the testing process, and ensure the security of the transaction.

We went with mobile web instead of a native app for two reasons: time to market and broad application. The tool had to be delivered for the July 4th launch, and it had to be as democratic as possible, without giving one platform the advantage over another.

Because mobile web development is greatly complicated by variations in screen size and a slew of other design considerations, we created a live style guide, used open source software we built ourselves and rigorous front-end Javascript testing to meet the technical challenge. Our successful execution on mobile web meant that we were able to provide a fully responsive implementation that feels like a native application and adapts extremely well across many mobile devices. That approach was essential to reaching the widest possible audience.

The needs of NYC Votes made it especially well suited to our development practices. Our agile process let us adapt pre-designed work and move forward with the format brought to us by the CFB. We were able to build a nonpartisan app that interfaces with municipal government legacy systems that were never intended for that purpose, demonstrating how well our approach to legacy systems in the private sector can translate to the public sphere.

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