DemLabs blog

Many rural communities suffer from a lack of connectivity. It's harder to stay informed, benefit from online services, locate polling locations, vote and take part in the census.

Organizers struggle to reach rural voters in remote rural areas without connectivity. Campaigns find it harder and more expensive to inform communities about election issues and the importance of the census. This reduces the voting power of rural communities and their ability to bring about change.

Organizers can now register voters and help the census count using a free mobile app that works without internet access. It can work with any list of addresses - or build a list from scratch.

The need
O.J. Semans is a Rosebud Sioux tribe member and executive director of South Dakota-based voting-rights group Four Directions. He has decades of experience organizing on tribal lands and has been featured by Rachel Maddow for his work on voting rights. OJ raised the need for a canvassing solution for remote communities to DemLabs. The solution had to be affordable, easy to use and work from any phone or laptop.

Background
Controlling the flow of information translates into political power. Many rural communities have to rely on their local radio or TV station for information. This gives the Sinclair Broadcasting Company immense influence in rural areas by deciding what people hear.  "The company is the largest owner of local television stations in the country, with 173 stations in 81 broadcast markets that stretch from coast to coast and just about everywhere in between, at a time when local news outpaces national news outlets both in overall viewership and trust", reported the Washington Post.

Is there a correlation between a community's prosperity and access to broadband internet access and cellular coverage? You make the call. Click on these interactive maps for more details.

Hispanic communities densities. Source: Justice Map

African American communities densities. Source: Justice Map

 

 

 

 

Rural parts of Virginia with little internet access. Source: National Broadband Map Data

 

Tribal lands with little connectivity. Source: National Broadband Map Data

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spot the pattern. Take a look at the national map and match it to the areas with high Hispanic, African American communities, tribal lands and rural parts of Virginia. Which communities tend to get high speed internet and cellular coverage? Source: National Broadband Map Data

Solution
It all starts with voter registration and mobilization. And as O.J. pointed out, organizers need an affordable way to reach people in remote, rural areas without internet access. After researching several option, the DemLabs team chose KoboToolbox. This wonderful, free solution has many benefits:
- It works on a phone, tablet or a laptop.
- Works with or without internet connectivity
- Users do not even have to instal an app.
- Is easy to learn and use. It includes an excellent online tutorial.
- Supports many languages including English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Hindi and Chinese.
- Campaigns decide what information canvassers should collect.
- Information collected can be exported for use in other programs.

How does the app work without connectivity?
When a form is designed to collect data on KoboToolbox, it creates a URL. This is loaded onto a phone or laptop while there is internet access. After visiting the URL once, canvassers can use that form even if they lose internet access. The information they collect is saved locally on their phone or laptop automatically and uploaded when they are back in an area with internet connectivity. KoboToolbox even works if a laptop is turned off and then back on.

 

Prototype

We created a simple canvassing form to collect a person's contact details to help them register to vote, mobilize or take part in the census. This generated a URL that you can try on a phone or laptop yourself. All you have to do is visit the URL and then form is loaded into your internet browser.We then entered some records, turned off internet access, filled out the canvassing form. We then restored internet access and checked to see that the record we had entered earlier had been uploaded. It was!

Try the canvassing app on a phone or laptop yourself - with or without connectivity using this link.

 

 
Takeaway
A lack of connectivity restricts the flow of information to remote communities and hinders their ability to organize and vote. Providing connectivity to all communities is a slow process, but in the mean time innovative solutions such as KoboToolbox can mobilize more rural voters. Increasing voter turnout in remote, marginalized communities can reduce the stranglehold of entrenched powers.

Contact DemLabs here to learn more about this solution, or let us know of other campaign needs that could benefit from innovation.
 

Deepak
Co-Founder, DemLabs

 

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