Dems Release Voter Registration Apps, Including Open Source Version

While voting for the president via a browser may never happen, it’s now easier to register to vote online, thanks to the Obama campaign and the Democratic party, which debuted two flavors of online voter registration widgets just days before their nomination convention.

Late Friday night, the Democratic National Committee released open source software that allows any site — whether it leans Republican, Democratic, Libertarian or Occupyist — to embed an unbranded app that helps citizens register to vote. The open source code uses the cool kids’ Ruby on Rails framework and was posted on GitHub, the go-to spot for coders to collaborate on open software.  (Here’s a demo of the app running on Heroku.)

Would-be voters simply fill out a form, and the app creates a PDF unique to their state that they can print out. Citizens of states that allow online registration are taken directly to the proper online form. The code is released under a custom license from the DNC that allows wide re-use of the code, so long as laws aren’t broken.

Just a few hours later, the Obama re-election campaign debuted its own version, a point-and-click customizable voter registration form that anyone can embed on their website or in a blog post. Like the open source version, the widget creates a PDF that a citizen needs to mail in or directs them to their state’s official online form.

Unlike the GitHub code, this widget is powered by the Obama campaign and presumably shares a would-be voter’s contact information with the campaign. The campaign’s privacy policy says it uses information provided to its site to send newsletters, to serve ads and to help people find their polling place.

Adam Fetcher, an Obama campaign spokesman, says the tools are intended to simplify the process of registering for all citizens in order to make elections more representative.

“We need more Americans to have a say in their government,” Fetcher said via e-mail. “[T]hese new tools are part of our efforts to get as many Americans involved in the process as possible heading into our convention in Charlotte and in the remaining days until Nov. 6.”

According to estimates from George Mason University, in 2010 there approximately 217 million eligible voters in the United States but only 41 percent of them voted that year. Participation is typically higher in presidential election years.

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