Open Data: Powering the Polls

April 10, 2015 7:34 am PST | Data as a Service

Once upon a time, Al Gordon didn’t give a damn about local elections.

A decade-long Los Angeles resident, this chef and restaurateur had rarely voted in a local municipal election, and he generally didn’t care how L.A.’s elected-official races and ballot initiatives played out.

Al also wasn’t alone in this local-election apathy. During the 2014 California general elections, Los Angeles County ranked dead last in the state when it came to registered voter turnout, and in 2013, only 23 percent of voters bothered to participate in the selection of a new mayor.

Al probably still wouldn’t care about his local elections if it weren’t for L.A. radio station KPCC, which, in the weeks leading up to the city’s March 3 primary elections, devised a novel campaign to help counter the city’s notorious electoral indifference.

Instead of trying to directly convince everyone to vote, the station’s news team decided—through the power of storytelling and social media—to raise election awareness by convincing just one non-voter to finally cast a ballot.

You can see where this is going. Thanks to KPCC reporter Meghan McCarty, who met Al though a mutual acquaintance, the #MakeAlCare campaign was born—an entertaining combination of stories covering Al’s non-voting tendencies and a call to Angelinos to help convince Al to get to the polls.

The campaign worked beautifully. McCarty’s stories, and the station’s tweets, posts, and videos, inspired listeners to send a personal message to Al though social media and email, all containing a reason for him to go to the polls.

However, one of the most powerful messages to Al came from L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti—make sure to watch it on

In this quick video, Garcetti hinged his get-Al-to-vote argument on some choice information from Data LA, the open data portal Socrata set up in partnership with L.A.’s city leaders.

Specifically, Garcetti appealed to Al’s stake in some data sets of interest to a small restaurant owner: the cost of imported water and the speed of the city’s business permit processing.

In doing so, Garcetti actually made a huge point when it comes to the power of an open-data policy, which is this: Open data, especially when served up in an inviting, easily digestible format, can actually help inspire the democratic process.

In other words, when Mayor Garcetti showed Al, and other Angelinos, those publicly accessible water import and permit graphics, he was actually showing them how elected officials like him, and the municipal issues on the ballot each year, directly affect their lives and interests—visually, concisely, and in an easily digestible format.

In the end, Al was one of the first voters to cast a ballot, and the station is kicking around the idea of scaling up a future campaign by trying to get an entire city block to cast their ballots.

More importantly, KPCC, and any L.A. government or civic organization that cares about convincing voters to get out and vote, now has an additional ally to help make their argument: an easily accessible, well executed open-data portal, and the public information it contains.


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