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Why Did Google Get My Polling Place Wrong? [Update]

Dude, where’s my polling place?

Why Did Google Get My Polling Place Wrong? [Update]

If you’re using Google to find your polling place, you may notice something strange this election day–as FastCompany.com Deputy Editor Tyler Gray did this morning. He logged on to Google’s election center, a tool intended to help folks find out where to vote, and entered his address. Google spat out his voting location. Then he logged on to the New York City Board of Elections Site to do the same [Ed: Two sources. Always]. Strangely, the NYC BOE site address didn’t match the one provided by Google. [Ed: Update. Wife went to the polling place provided by the BOE. It was the right one. Almost no line.]

Depending on how widespread this glitch is, it could be no small matter. Lines in polling places typically stretch out the door and down the block; imagine waiting in one of those after work, only to find out that Google (or the city) sent you the wrong way? At that point, it would take a dedicated citizen indeed to brook a second line–if assuming your actual polling site wasn’t about to close already.

We don’t want to claim the sky is falling here. The Google Election Center is a useful tool, the next logical step in the overall simplification of our lives brought to us by the Internet. But as we enter an era of digitally-assisted democracy, it’s important to take debugging very seriously.

Google itself is probably not at fault here. Ultimately, it’s just a clearinghouse for information provided by others. Google is using data from the nonpartisan Voting Information Project, a program from the Pew Center on the States, as we reported Thursday. (When Tyler texted “where” to the 30644, he received the same information Google gave him.) The New Organizing Institute Education Fund, which is affiliated with the Voting Information Project, points out that “polling place information changes frequently” and asks users to submit errors on its site.

A sidebar on the Google tool urges users to “check your voting location on your state voting place locator.” Might not be a bad idea to take them up on that offer, before you head over to your polling site today.

Update, 11:32 AM: A Google spokesperson confirms, “We are constantly updating the tool to make sure it reflects the most up-to-date information provided to us by the Board of Elections.”

Update, 9:32 PM: Google Tool May Have Wrong Polling Place Locations for Hundreds of Thousands of Voters

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.



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