Empower volunteers to help voters in areas without cell service by putting the data they need on their phones

6 mins read

Empower volunteers to help voters in areas without cell service by putting the data they need on their phones

A lack of internet access makes it harder for voters to register, request absentee ballots, see if they have been purged…

Voting rights groups helping voters struggle in areas without cell service because they cannot access voting records.

You may have the answer in your hand. Did you know that a typical smartphone can store 10 million records and the processing power to search through them in a flash. And you can do all this even without connectivity using software launched over a decade ago and costs $3!

This blog explains how:
– voting rights advocates can overcome the challenge of working in areas without connectivity, by keeping the information they need on their phones
– volunteers transfer publicly available voter files onto their phones and search records when they are in the field
– volunteers can record follow-on actions to help voters and upload this information when they do have connectivity

Lack of internet access creates barriers to voting

Voters are forced to jump through more hoops in order to exercise their right to vote. These tasks are made harder without internet access.
– A voter would like to check if they are currently in the Voter File and registered to vote
– Is their addresses or phone number recorded properly or needs to be updated.
– A voters wants to check to see if they have been purged from the voter rolls or might be purged
– Request a vote by mail ballot
It is often Black, Brown, indigenous, poor urban and rural communities that have the least internet access. (See map below). Internet access is the new Jim Crow tool for voter suppression.

Organizers often download records of ‘unregistered’ voters and assign them to volunteers to help voters using apps such as MiniVAN which can also work offline and integrated with the Voter File. It is a good but not perfect solution. Why?
– Not all eligible but unregistered voters may be in the Voter File to begin with
– A volunteer may meet someone not assigned to them and do not have that person’s voting related details in their MiniVAN app
– Grassroots groups struggle for funds and need low cost solutions

Lack of internet access makes voting harder and creates obstacles for voting rights advocates.

Edge computing for voting rights

Businesses enable their mobile workers to work without internet access by putting the information they need to do their work right on their phones with edge computing solutions. How do you think a UPS worker can check your address and shipment details even when there is no connectivity. Why not use the same technology to help volunteer canvassers be more productive too?

Canvassers need a simple way to access publicly available voter file records – without cell coverage. Edge computing enables canvassers to keep a copy of publicly available voter file records for the area they are canvassing on their phones. They can then check if someone is on the Voter List; see if their address and phone number are correct, and their voting status (active, inactive or about to be purged). Canvassers can add notes on what follow-up help that voter needs and upload their notes when they do have internet connectivity.

The edge computing solution we used for this project is SQlite which is a twenty year old app and runs on both Apple and Android phones. It is very affordable with a one-time charge of $3 and can handle millions of records.

In this project a record includes only the basic information a canvasser needs to help a voter in order to save space on the phone. Voter ID, Name, Date of Birth, Address, Phone Number, Voting status was 0.1 KB in size. A million records took 0.1 GB. An iPhone X has over 64 GB of storage which would let it easily store 5 million records.


Check the facts about race, internet access and voter turnout for yourself. Take a look the Ohio counties with the largest percentage of African Americans. Then let’s see the availability of internet access in those areas.

Ohio counties with a large percentage of African Americans.

Source: IndexMundi

Source: IndexMundi
Internet access by Ohio county with a focus on predominantly Black Cuyahoga county.

use and share this map for where you live

Voting related resources

Registered voters in Ohio who have moved within Ohio and/or changed their name must update their voter registration by submitting a new voter registration form. Check your voter registration status, change your address and find other important voting information online at the Secretary of State’s website.

Ohio offers Registered Voter Lists for export by district including:
Congressional/Senate/House Districts
County Council Districts
Judicial Districts
City Districts
City School Districts

TakeAway: Empower your volunteers to help more voters in areas without cell coverage by putting the data they need right on their phones with SQLite. Learn more on how to do this here.


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DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

Our focus is on long term, sustainable and affordable solutions. An approach that is longer than an election cycle, and isn’t purely dependant on volunteers, can enable more qualified candidates to run for office and for more issue groups to bring about positive social change.

Democracy Labs is a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund.

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