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Voters Tell of Being Mislead by Google Polling Place Locator [Updated]

Incorrect poll location information used by Google’s poll finder tool caused major disruptions to voters on Tuesday. Here are a few stories.

Voters Tell of Being Mislead by Google Polling Place Locator [Updated]

Yesterday we reported that one of our editors was directed to an incorrect polling site using the Google elections tool, and that a company called Aristotle had conducted a study suggesting that potentially a million or more people were directed to the wrong place.

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Today, firsthand accounts are trickling in from readers about Google-related polling confusion.

“I discovered an inconsistency in the voting information here in Stafford, Texas, and called the operation of a politician,” who was using Google to give out voting locations, reader Robert Sitton tells Fast Company. The exact location of the polling place, a church, was mixed up with other churches on the same stretch. “I was persistent enough to look, but I think other voters may have given up.”

Charlie Fitzpatrick, newly of Arlington, Virginia, is a good citizen and checked his polling site days in advance. Formerly a social studies teacher whose old school had been his previous polling site, he anticipated that his new polling place would also be at a nearby school, and when he checked the Virginia voting registration website, it forwarded him to an MSN map that confirmed his hunch–he would only have to walk a block or two up the road.

Yesterday morning, he listened to a radio report talking about Google’s new easy way of finding your polling site. Fitzpatrick, who works for a geographic information systems software company, is interested in maps and voting behavior, so he tested it out. He Googled, “Where do I vote in Virginia,” and a Google link came up. He clicked it–and it directed him to the wrong site, over a mile away.

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Strangely enough, Google listed the correct address for Fitzpatrick’s voting site. But it located that address incorrectly on its own map. Fitzpatrick thought it was a funny glitch, and sent it to his
co-workers. “I figured it was a one-shot deal, a weird thing, and it
was not until I saw this article this morning that indicated that it
might be more widespread.”

“I’m guessing that this was just a
weird little fluke rather than some deep, dark conspiracy,” he goes on.
He says he hopes that most people checked their polling places well in
advance, potentially avoiding this problem, “but I know human nature
being what it is, a lot of people wait till it’s the day, and it’s
discouraging.”

In our own editor’s experience, he was given both a different address and a different map by the Google tool. Left to gamble on which was correct, his wife went first to the address provided by New York’s Board of Elections website, across the street from his apartment (rather than the Google-recommended site six blocks away). She texted him that it was, indeed, the correct site later that morning.

Some have suggested that the Voter Information Project, which provided data used by Google for its tool, updated polling place locations since Google originally started pulling the addresses for its tool. But regardless of whether errors were as prevalent as voter data company Aristotle has suggested, addresses provided by both Google and the Voter Information Project‘s SMS service were incorrect on election day. Google still has an incorrect polling place for an address on its own blog entry touting the easy-to-use polling place finder, as blogger Gary Price pointed out yesterday on his site, Resource Shelf. That address? 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The White House.

 

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Here’s the polling place mapped by the D.C. Board of Elections website.

UPDATE: Aristotle has just released an additional statement: “As millions of Americans went to the polls on
Tuesday, Google offered to provide voters with accurate information about their
polling place.  Unfortunately, according to investigations by various
reporters and observers, and an Aristotle review of the tool, the technology
used likely produced erroneous information for some voters.  (FastCompany,
Politico,
ResourceShelf)
While we do not know the full scope of the problem, any mistakes should be
reason for concern for Google and for all of us.  The races decided by
razor-thin margins or still hanging in the balance illustrate this point. 
So does the experience of anyone who was directed to the wrong polling place on
Election Day.”

Tyler Gray contributed to this report.

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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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