Citizen Student: Learning to vote with Bluemix’s help

Young voters are the least represented in today’s elections. Fewer than two in five 18-24 year olds voted in the last Canadian election (2011).

Getting VoteSavvy

It is a trend echoed in many other countries (for example, the USA, UK, and Australia). A couple of weeks ago, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called a general election in Canada for October this year, which offers an opportunity to monitor the youth vote again.

A group of concerned researchers and young voters have created an organization called ‘VoteSavvy‘ to engage and educate young voters.

Part of the VoteSavvy initiative is to provide a survey for young voters, designed to reveal useful voting information (like candidates, location and party stance on an individual’s interests). The survey runs on Bluemix, and was built with a young front end technology called ‘Polymer‘.

When the survey is submitted, the young voter is presented with policy information, beautifully provided by Pollenize.

screenshot of votesavvy

Random Hacks of Kindness

As an advocate, and organizer of hackathons for social good, I’m thrilled that this survey was born in an Ottawa hackathon called ‘Random Hacks of Kindness‘. Here’s a photo of our team.

A few of us carried on with the work after the hackathon, notably the industrious Ying Qiao, who used the opportunity to grow into a cloud developer on Bluemix, writing some of her observations down as she did so.

We used this opportunity to learn a little more about web components, and material design through the Polymer project.

I plan to write a more technical post about some of that work soon, but I’m excited about web components, and really happy with the responsive design we’re seeing in our work. Our project integrated other technology, from Google Maps, and Open North.

When I look back, I’m amazed that we’ve achieved so much in our spare time.

Surveys on Bluemix

For the researchers, this project is all about the data, so naturally we want to collect and analyze the data to learn more about young voters motivations, and how they use social media in deciding to vote ( or not ).

Our Polymer form uploads survey data to a Cloudant database on Bluemix. While there are many convenient form building solutions around, it is surprisingly hard to use them to persist the form data in a database for use later.

Aside from giving us a good foundation to host the survey, and store the data, we’re excited about using some of the cognitive, and analytic services Bluemix offers to help us understand the data more.

It takes hard work to put this level of integration together, even in a corporately funded team. Here, we’ve been able to achieve this working in different parts of a city, with people we’ve just met, building on modern cloud and web technology openly. You can see our issue board too. I plan to follow up with another post about our approach to working collaboratively.

So, we’ll see what happens in the election, and learn what happens with our experiment, as VoteSavvy reaches out through their network of university connections in Canada.

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