1 June, 2021

Fight the connectivity poll tax that disenfranchises poor voters

icon Canvassing,cell coverage,internet access,vote by mail,voter registration,voter suppression
Voter Suppression by denying internet access and cell coverage to poor black and brown communities

Connectivity is a poll tax that stifles voters in Black, Brown, indigenous and rural communities who cannot afford to get online.

"Poll taxes were essentially a voting fee used to keep African Americans from voting in southern states. Eligible voters were required to pay their poll tax before they could cast a ballot. In 1964 the Twenty-Fourth amendment prohibited the use of poll taxes for federal elections." - American History

Internet connectivity is a poll tax: voting is much harder for people who cannot get online. It becomes harder to register to vote, request absentee ballots, find polling locations or see if you have been purged from the voter rolls.

Voter turnout suffers without internet access and cellular service. Disconnected voters become victims to the connectivity poll tax.

Voting rights groups also struggle to contact and help people living in areas without connectivity.

How can disconnected voters be helped to register to vote and request absentee ballots where permitted? How can volunteers be trained to conduct surveys quickly and affordably? How can both registered voters from a voter file and potential voters be contacted? How can photos of documents needed to assist voters be sent, or time stamped and location details be attached to a survey?

Survey123 canvassing for democracy

Survey 123 Connect is an affordable esri app which costs nonprofits about $150/year. It is widely used by businesses and government agencies around the world. The app is used to fight poachers, report pollution sites, hazardous road conditions and more. Survey123 Connect is ideal to canvas and help people register to vote in areas without internet access. Learn more about how to order Survey 123 here.

- Survey 123 can be used by any number of volunteers with or without internet connectivity
- Surveys are easily created and can include fields to attach photos and videos
- Surveys are automatically tagged with the location and time where the survey results were collected
- Survey results are stored on phones and updated when the volunteer regains access to the internet
- It can be used with or without a voter file or contact list
- Information collected is automatically stored, mapped and updated to a voter file (if needed)

Survey 123 Connect is an affordable app (nonprofit cost about $150/year) from esri which is widely used by businesses and government agencies around the world. The app is used to fight poachers, report pollution sites, hazardous roads and more. Survey123 Connect is ideal to canvas and help people register to vote without internet access.

Canvassing without connectivity

Volunteers working online can use the survey form with an internet browser using a link like

Volunteers who are going to be working in the field, first download the free Survey 123 Connect app from the Apple AppStore or Google Play. They choose the survey form to be used in the campaign. The results they collect are stored on their phone and uploaded automatically to a database when they have internet connectivity. Survey forms are easily customized and may include date, location, photos and videos.

Volunteers can be assigned a list of people to contact in the app, as well as contacting potential voters as they canvas door-to-door. The survey results are uploaded automatically and saved in a database when volunteers are back in an area with internet access.

Survey123 Connect can be used without connectivity and tags submissions with location and time of the survey
Survey123 stores survey results on the volunteer's phone till cell service is available


This project for a canvassing solution to help voters was inspired by a collaboration between VoteRiders and DemLabs.

"Our Right to Vote is Under Attack. Voter ID laws prevent or intimidate millions of eligible Americans from casting their ballot. VoteRiders is a nonprofit with the mission to address this crisis in our democracy. VoteRiders works nationwide to provide voter ID education and assistance to all eligible voters who are in need. Working with over 5,500 volunteers and 730+ partner organizations, they equip voters with the documents they need to vote with confidence, knowing they cannot be turned away."

"VoteRiders works with voters in areas with limited internet access. Temporary and emergency housing, food pantries, and rural areas often don't have consistent internet connections. These faulty links prohibit voters from accessing online resources and makes it harder for teams to connect with and support voters who need their IDs."

Teneryville, Harris County, TX

Black and Brown communities often have poor internet access which makes it harder for them to learn about candidates, issues, how to register to vote, and request vote by mail ballots. Consider Teneryville in Harris County, Texas. Check this map for the degree of internet connectivity in this or any other area.

Black residents of Tenneryville, TX do not have internet access
Check for internet access in Black communities here

Checking for cellular service

Cell phone coverage in rural and low income areas is often sparse. Check on this map for dead cell zones in an area. This makes it harder to find information on their phones and makes it hard for canvassers to conduct surveys. Survey 123 Connect enables volunteers to work offline. Volunteers can download the survey form and optionally a list of people in that area they should contact. Teneryville for instance has few cell phone towers

Tenneryville, TX has poor cellular coverage
Check to see cellular service in an area here

Conducting a campaign

- Create a survey questionnaire for volunteers to collect
- This form is shared with volunteers as a link or a QR Code
- Volunteers who will work in areas without connectivity download the Survey123 Connect app from the Apple AppStore or Google Play and pick the survey form to use
- Volunteers working in areas with cell coverage use their web browser and do not need to install the app
- Survey results are collected and mapped automatically
- Survey results can be downloaded and used to update other lists such as the Voter File

Survey123 lets volunteers canvas with or without connectivity

TakeAway: Fight the connectivity poll tax that disenfranchises poor voters by canvassing in disconnected communities with Survey123 to help voters. Request pro bono help in using Survey123 for voting rights projects here.


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