Tech steps up to help voters decide

Theresa May has announced a snap general election for June 8. The surprise news and the reasons behind the announcement has left many voters confused about who to support, and why. Civic tech innovators are coming together to help voters decide.

theresa mayTuesday’s announcement by prime minister Theresa May of a snap general election has left many voters in a state of bewilderment and confusion about the choice in front of them. The UK tech sector has already started rising to the challenge, offering to create new tools and data sources to help voters decide.

This is a general election unlike almost any other. For a start it comes just two years after the 2015 election returned David Cameron to power. And unlike others, this poll is driven by one issue: Brexit. It’s almost a second referendum.

May wants a mandate for her Brexit plan, and to cement power in the face of opposition from Labour, the Scottish National Party and also opponents within the Conservative party.

The election move is a gamble – with the volatility in the City on shares and pound illustrating the uncertainty. But May clearly believes that, with a huge 21-point opinion poll lead over Labour, and Conservative party finances in much better shape than the opposition, she has an excellent chance of winning. The bookies clearly agree – the Conservatives are currently 12-1 on to win the most seats.

With Brexit at the heart of the campaign, many remainers are looking to the election as an opportunity to rein back hard Brexit or even reverse the decision to leave the EU altogether. This group includes many working in UK tech, who see Brexit and its impact on talent and investment as nothing short of disastrous for the sector.

“I will campaign and vote for any party which has a chance of STOPPING Brexit. Simples,” tweeted TechCrunch editor at-large and staunch remain campaigner Mike Butcher this week.

Butcher has thrown his weight behind More United, an anti-Brexit alliance that claims credit for defeating Brexit candidates at the Richmond and Stoke by-elections. This week MU launched the first-ever general election crowdfund “to help elect a new generation of MPs.”

The problem for voters in the general election is that there is no clear party divide on Brexit. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has not come out against Brexit altogether, arguing for a better Brexit for Britain – leaving many remainer Labour voters bewildered and let down, and adding to the sense of confusion.

Only the Liberal Democrats under Tim Farron, and the SNP in Scotland, are resolutely anti-Brexit. But, after many on the left voted Lib Dem in 2010 only to see the party form a coalition government with the Conservatives, there is widespread mistrust of the party among voters.

On top of the blurred party lines is the position of Brexit-backing MPs in constituencies that voted remain overall. London voted overwhelmingly in favour of remain, leaving its Conservative MPs in an awkward position.

In this confusing political environment UK civic tech specialists are stepping forward to provide more clarity on the big issue, with new digital tools emerging to help voters to make the best-informed decisions.

Democracy Club – a non-partisan group of technologists – defines a good general election as “an election in which the largest number of prospective voters possible understand more about who their individual candidates are (and what they do/believe) than at any previous election”.

Democracy Club hosts a meetup in London on Thursday 20 on tech and the general election. Tech and the 2017 general election happens at Newspeak House, Bethnal Green, from 6:30-10pm.

ballot paperThe event is an ‘open space’ session “where we get together to talk data infrastructure, how we use that data, how we know what voters want, how we can use it, test it, research it”. The group has put together a first draft of plans, questions and resources to inform work ahead.

Among ideas being looked at by Democracy Club are open, public databases of candidates, polling stations, public spending and parliamentary voting. An ‘am I registered to vote’ chatbot could allow users to enter their name, birth date and postcode and check whether they’re already registered to vote in that ward.

Tools to help voters

Bite the Ballot
Party-neutral movement to empower young citizens, including by registering to vote.

Voting information tools.

Democracy Club
Promises to create an open, public database of every candidate.

Building a not-for-profit voter advice application.

Fact checking campaign claims.

More United
Supporting anti-Brexit candidates.

Remain standing
Crowd-sourced platform to help make votes count as a “no to Brexit”, and candidates’ likelihood of being elected. Creator Stef Lewandowski has created a slack group for anyone wanting to contribute.

Simple Politics
Simplifying the world of UK politics and helping voters stay on top of it.

Tactical voting list
Google sheet showing how to vote tactically to stop hard Brexit.

mySociety’s online resource allows voters to check on their MP’s voting records.