Getting People To The Polling Station

by @edent | # | 17 comments | Read ~261 times.

It has always depressed me how little the British make of elections. We don’t have voter registration drive, “Kiss me; I’ve voted” badges” or much in the way of celebrating our democracy.

Perhaps it’s our reserved nature. But I think it has a direct effect on the declining number of people voting.

We’re going to have a General Election within a year – how do we encourage people to register and then vote?

I want to create a dual-aim mobile site.

  • How do I register to vote?
    • Enter home postcode (or use geolocation), get back phone number for registration.
  • Where do I vote?
    • Enter home postcode (or use geolocation), get back an address and a map of your local polling station.

Simple, right?

(Why mobile? Well, partly because I’m a mobile guy and partly because more people have access to a phone than a PC. You can use the phone to call voter registration direct from the web page. You can also take the mobile map with you to help find the polling station.)

The Problems

Getting the Data

The UK has a patchwork of different authorities responsible for various aspects of our lives. Because of this, there’s a surprising lack of centrally held information. I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Electoral Commission. They simply don’t track where all the UK’s polling stations are.

So, to get a list of polling stations I’d need to contact every returning officer in the UK. With nearly 700 MPs, that could be tricky – but not impossible.

Where to vote.

Calculating the distance between two postcodes is not simple, but can be done. The problem is, your nearest station may not be where you are registered to vote. Can you vote at a different station? Does a user get shown a list of local polling stations? If not, can returning officers supply data (in a suitable format) showing which postcodes vote at which stations?

Virality.

I am not politically neutral – but the site must be. What good, neutral content can attract repeat visitors? What will encourage people to text the address to their friends?

I was impressed with the work Hope Not Hate did – can that be built on?
The deadline for registering to vote is always 11 days before an election. Can the site be built sufficiently before the election? How to encourage voters to come back on polling day?
I want a UK version of this to send to my friends

So, that’s the idea and the problems – any thoughts?

17 thoughts on “Getting People To The Polling Station

  1. Denny says:

    There is prior art on this problem – you can put your postcode into various websites and be told which ward you live in for purposes of registering and voting. Can you get their engine, or screen-scrape them?

    1. Indeed. About My Vote http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/ allows you to find which local area you’re in – but doesn’t give any phone or polling station location information. Each council has something similar – but all inconsistent. Screen scraping may have to be a back-up plan.

  2. Denny says:

    https://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/register_to_vote/postal_vote_application/registration_application.aspx seems to find my borough early in its process, although it goes on to ask a lot more questions which I got bored of halfway through.

  3. Denny says:

    http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/faq/registering_to_vote.aspx

    Q. How can I contact my local electoral registration office?

    A. You can find the contact details for your local electoral registration office in the ‘Make it Local’ panel – just enter your postcode for the correct office.

    Somebody has the data then. And that website is linked from and claims to belong to the Electoral Commission. Perhaps they lied to you and your FoI request 🙂 (Hanlon’s Razor probably applies)

  4. Scott says:

    There is a site that is trying to build a geo-database of post boxes … same problem again in that there is no central record of them. I wonder if their technique would help?

    http://www.postboxr.co.uk/

  5. I don’t think you’re going to get a full list without enlisting the help of a lot of people, but I think that’s do-able.

    The commission already has a registration website: http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/default.aspx

    Ordnance Survey provide maps of all wards, but they aren’t mashable: http://www.election-maps.co.uk/

    Electoral registers (if memory serves – its been years since I looked at one) are divided up in terms of district and each district has its own polling station. The hard copy registers I used to use (most registers are sent out electronically these days but I’d imagine you could extract the same data from them) listed everyone by street name and the postcode.

    So if you can get hold of the street names and prerequisite postcodes (you wouldn’t need the full register), you don’t particularly need to do any fancy maths matching the user to their district – you would simply need to check against the list.

    So I think your first step is to get lots of people to make individual requests to their local EROs asking for:
    * A list of postal districts and their matching polling stations
    * A list of postcodes for each postal district.

    Good news: you could probably make quite a lot of progress relatively quickly.
    Bad news: you’ll inevitably have gaps that you’ll struggle to fill.

  6. Mark Pack says:

    I think this would be an excellent idea.

    The bad news bits: as far as I’m aware, none of the datasets that do things like match postcode to ward include polling station information. That data is all stored at council level, and so split amongst 400+ bodies. Polling station locations can also be changed at short notice and without any legislative process by councils, so it’s also data that needs keeping up to date.

    But the good news: I think that the service would prove very popular with lots of other people and websites, so there’s a high chance of all that work being worthwhile – and of getting volunteers to help. I think other people picking up on the service is what will make it a success rather than people coming to it directly.

    In addition to contacting MySociety people, it may well be worth contacting VoteWise (www.votewise.co.uk).

  7. Will says:

    Would be interesting to see if you could get the postcode/polling district match-up using FoI requests. I’d hope so. Only problem would be cross-district postcodes (and getting the data in!).

    Matching these districts definitively to polling stations might have to be late in the day. I suspect many aren’t finalised until the election.

  8. Chris Keating says:

    agree with Will. It might be possible to match the postcodes to polling districts – this information certainly exists somewhere, though not necessarily in a usable form.

    Once you have that, the polling station for each polling district will be decided near the election. Every Returning Officer will have a list matching poll district -> poll station, and many of them publish them. That would be a lot of updating to do in a short space of time – though demand for “where’s my polling station?” would be much greater in the week of polling day.

    And to answer your question – no you can’t vote at a different polling station (except if you have a postal vote and are handing it over on polling day).

  9. Thanks for all your comments. I’ve spoken to the (very helpful) electoral department at the local council.

    Each council should have a list of polling stations used at the last EU election. However, polling places may not be available on the day of the next General Election. Councils are usually notified a couple of months in advance for they can check if a particular place is available.

    You can only vote at your designated polling place – this is usually your nearest. There may be some exceptions.

    There should be no trouble getting a list of polling stations. However, it may be too time consuming and expensive to provide a list of every post-code in the area matched with the polling station.

    So, it looks mostly doable. I think I’ll ask the Electoral Commission for the email address of each returning officer – then I’ll ask them for what details they have. I may go down the FoI route if they’re not forthcoming with the info.

    1. Will says:

      That sounds very positive. The thing about councils being notified seem slightly misleading though – councils won’t know when the general election is going to be any more than the rest of us. We’ll all only know for sure when Gordon calls it.

      I believe the civil service tends to encourage councils to be prepared for certain dates – this happened with the general election that never was in 2007. But they don’t have any inside knowledge. If Brown goes the polls before local election day in 2010, it’s likely to take councils by surprise…

  10. This seems a good idea. I know its a pain but you could ring all the ero’s and get them to email you the list of polling stations in just over a day, esp with 3 or more of you.

    You could also set up google alert to see if councils are performing consultations on whether to change polling station locations.

    1. Thanks for volunteering 😉

  11. cormski says:

    I’m developing an interest in this one too with the election(s) coming up this year – wondering if the UK Government Data Developer google group might be a good place to foster further thoughts on this?

    (http://blogs.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/digitalengagement/post/2009/09/30/Calling-Open-Data-Developers-We-need-your-help.aspx)

    1. Hi Cormski,

      I’m already a member of Data.gov.uk and have been discussing it there.
      The clever clogs at MySociety have updated their API to include future consituencies.
      You can also get the geospatial coordinates.

      T

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