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Electronic voting system
(U.S. State Dept. Photo)

The election Tuesday is likely to be one of the most closely watched mid-term contests in years. Early indications already point to an unusually high turnout, both nationwide and around Washington state.

Whether you’re casting a ballot by mail at the last minute or just want a better understanding of the technology behind the election, here’s our hurry-up-and-vote cheat sheet to tech’s role on Tuesday.

  • If you’re still making up your mind on candidates or issues, don’t take everything you read online or on social media at face value, even at the last minute. Or maybe especially at the last minute, as “hit pieces” and wild claims try to sway the vote. Five seasoned digital news media observers and practitioners say there’s a lot the individual can do to evaluate what they see online. Among them: ignore “artificial urgency,” click through more to verify what a social post claims, and check multiple sources.
  • One issue that’s drawn a lot of technology leader interest is Initiative 1631, the measure on Washington state’s ballot to address climate change. Many of the largest personal donations in favor of I-1631 come from the tech sector, including $1 million from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, as well as dollars from execs tied to WRQ and Tableau. On the other side are petroleum giants. Total contributions make it the most expensive initiative campaign in state history.

  • If you’re still unsure exactly what or who is on your ballot, Alexa may be able to help. Seattle-based Democracy Live has launched an interactive voting skill on Alexa. It’s triggered simply by saying, “Alexa, open Live Ballot,” or try asking, “Alexa, who’s on my ballot this election?” Democracy Live says the LiveBallot skill covers all statewide contests this year, and will expand to the local level in 2020.
  • Getting down to the actual voting, you can spur friends to do their duty in a democracy with an app. VoteWithMe, developed by a handful of Seattle and D.C. technologists, compares publicly available voting records to your contact list with your permission. And yes, that means you can remind them to vote.
  • Another approach is simply to celebrate voting in the workplace — and maybe call it a holiday. Seattle startup Outreach has decided Nov. 6 will be ‘Democracy Day’ and is making work optional so staffers can finish voting.
  • If someone you know can’t get to a polling place — or even a registered drop-box location in a vote-by-mail state like Washington — Lyft is offering 50 percent off on Election Day rides to the polls or a ballot box. It’s a repeat of an earlier election promotion in partnership with voter turnout organizations. Heads up: the discount is limited to $5, but in some “underserved communities,” rides will be free.
King County uses mail machines built by Pitney Bowes. (GeekWire Photos / Taylor Soper)
  • Now to the actual vote count. In an all-vote-by-mail state like Washington, humans and machines work side by side. King County recently upgraded its tabulation tech so it can scan up to 12,000 two-sided, 18-inch paper ballots per hour, using high-tech cameras and image capture technology.
  • Still, it’s okay to be creeped out about potential hacking, as that tends to lead to vigilance. But the “hacking” could occur at any one of six stages, from when individuals decide to register to vote to society’s acceptance of the results. Yet, notes one state election security audit expert, “I have confidence in our democratic institutions, and we’ve survived a lot. And my belief is that we’re going to survive this as well.”
  • And election night? If you’re watching a video broadcast or stream, odds are you’ll see computer-generated maps. Lots of maps. Detailed, colorful maps. Fully interactive maps. The New York Times spoke with three anchors known for mad map skillz. Perhaps the biggest map takeaway from CNN’s John King, based on his work in previous elections? Use the appropriate finger. “I was flipping the country the bird,” he said of one year’s misstep. “So you learn.”
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