Come Tuesday night, if all goes well and the results from the Election Day polls show no signs of being rigged, UNH students registered to vote in Durham will have taken part in the democratic process of choosing individuals for 20 respective public offices in the combined national, state and local levels. There will be a total of 41 different names on the Durham ballot.
Even for the most politically involved UNH students on campus, it’s difficult for them to know where all the candidates stand on the issues of contention in this election cycle; this is especially the case in regard to the candidates running for positions on the state and local levels.
“I do think that it’s an issue because some of these local races really affect students profoundly, especially when we’re talking about State Senate and state representatives, where these are the people who make decisions about where university funding [goes] and things like that,” junior political science major Douglas Marino said. Marino ran for a spot on the Durham Town Council this past spring in an effort to better represent the student body in the Durham government, though he wasn’t successful in obtaining the spot.
UNH Department of Political Science Senior Lecturer Tama Andrews holds a similar viewpoint with Marino on the matter but believes the issue doesn’t stop with students. According to her, “most” people aren’t aware of where many candidates stand on issues of importance.
Marino and Andrews further share a mindset that partly blames this situation on how the media focuses more attention onto the presidential election rather than the more local races.
However, it doesn’t have to be the case that voters aren’t fully informed, and those behind a recently developed app have intentions to change that for New Hampshire residents by providing necessary information regarding political candidates.
Focusing on all three levels of American government, the New Hampshire Voter Guide 2016 app has information on over 800 candidates running for public office in New Hampshire. First developed in 2014 by Citizens Count, New Hampshire Live Free or Die Alliance, the app was updated for this election cycle in order to supply state voters with the most relevant information before they go to the polls on Tuesday. One such new feature is a polling location search that users can use to find the nearest voting location. For those voting in Durham, this polling location is Oyster River high School at 55 Coe Drive.
According to the Citizens Count, New Hampshire Live Free or Die Alliance website, the organization was created to serve New Hampshire citizens by “providing objective information about issues and candidates; promoting the civil exchange of opinions in a variety of forums, online and in person; [and] connecting citizens with their elected officials.”
According to Project Coordinator Anna Brown, the production team behind the app has not been able to find a similar mobile phone tool that displays such information regarding candidates on a state level that is as comprehensive as the New Hampshire Voting Guide.
“You can definitely find apps out there that will tell you about the presidential candidates, the U.S. House candidates, but it’s really hard to find information on those state candidates, especially when there are so many,” Brown said. “New Hampshire has the largest state legislature in the nation, so no one else out there has profiles on hundreds of local candidates like we do.”
Brown, who oversees all the data collection on the candidates and has been with the organization since the presidential election of 2012, said that the primary source for the information featured on the app is always the candidates themselves.
“We send a survey out to every candidate, and we make every attempt to have them answer the survey,” Brown said. “We have their official mailing addresses from the secretary of state, so everyone gets a paper copy, but we also look for emails, phone numbers and however we can reach out.”
However, Brown noted that there remain candidates who don’t answer the surveys, and, in those instances, she and her colleagues do their best to find either a candidate’s website or possibly see if there has been information released through a newspaper or another survey.
Brown said the organization did a soft launch of the app in August that didn’t include all of the newest features, but since that point, they have been updating the app on a rolling basis while promoting such updates congruently. According to her, as of Oct. 20 when the interview took place, there has been almost 2,000 downloads of the app which was created in house by the organization with three main developers.
Though Citizens Count is a nonpartisan organization that has never endorsed a political candidate, on the contrary, political candidates have endorsed their app. Brown said that Senator Kelly Ayotte and Governor Maggie Hassan, who are currently campaigning against each other for a Senate seat, have both publicly endorsed the New Hampshire Voting Guide app.
Upon first being introduced to the app, Andrews said she was impressed by what she saw and further noted that she holds a sense of optimism in regard to voters being more informed in future elections.
However, according to Andrews, having solid information on where candidates stand on various issues hasn’t necessarily improved with newer technology.
“We all hope that at some point, all candidates will actually have solid information on their websites,” Andrews said. “It’s been disappointing so far.”
Describing the app as “invaluable,” Andrews specifically made note of the simplicity and thoroughness of the information provided in the user-friendly design.
Follow Tyler on Twitter @TKennedy08