In New York City and around the country, an unprecedented gathering of journalists will be monitoring for voting problems that crop up on presidential election day in the US. The first-of-its-kind project, called Electionland, is led by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica. The news outlet, along with more than two-hundred partner newsrooms, will take phone calls and monitor social media for problems with voting machines, provisional ballots, long lines, and more.
One less conventional tool in their kit, thanks to a partnership with the Google News Lab, is the project’s real-time dashboard showing what voting problems people are searching for in cities across America.
The new tool is powered by the same technology that backs Google Trends. It tracks searches over time and “pings” whenever results for a voting problem spike in a particular city. Electionland reporters can then use this information to focus their reporting on communities that seem to be having the worst problems.
It isn’t a foolproof system, given that searching for a voting problem is not necessarily an indication that you are having one. Nevertheless, it’s an important new window into the experience of voters, many of whom may not know how or may not be willing to actually contact a poll monitor when they have a problem.