Panelists talk politics and technology at Polsky

Staff Writer

The University of Chicago’s (U. of C.) Institute of Politics (IOP) co hosted a talk earlier today, Oct. 27, on how technology has changed and will change the elections process.

Election season is in full swing, with only 11 days until Election Day. Four panelists came together at the Polsky Center, 1452 E. 53rd St., to discuss how technology is being applied to elections and political campaigns on the local and national level.

“This is a relevant and timely topic,” said John Flavin, the associate vice president for the Polsky Center and the moderator of the discussion. “We are all looking for solutions and trying to come to grips in terms of this election.”

The presidential election has had everyone’s attention but Alex Niemczewski, owner of BallotReady, said local campaigns are also important.

“Thirty percent of people leave their ballots blank,” said Niemczewski, who said BallotReady is providing local campaign information on the candidates that are in the running. “Our goal is to make people more informed on what goes on in local politics.”

According to BallotReady’s website, there are 13 elections and three referendums that will appear on Hyde Park ballots on Nov. 8.

However, early voting for Chicago began on Oct. 24, and the discussion turned to how technology can affect voter turnout for these campaigns.

“Generally, over the past two presidential elections, we have seen an increase in voter turnout and in new voters,” said Betsy Hoover, a founding partner with 270 Strategies, a company that focuses on political digital organizing. “Once people vote they are exponentially more likely to vote again.”

According to the Chicago Board of Elections Spokesman, Jim Allen, as of Herald press time the current early voting place for Hyde Park residents at the Jackson Park Fieldhouse, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., has seen an early voter turnout of 779 people.

Allen said that this number is not as many as other early polling places in the city, with most having over 1,000 early votes cast already.

According to the panelists, getting the word out about voting is the easy part but it’s getting an idea of what people think that is becoming more challenging.

“Public opinion has actually gotten harder to determine,” said David Shor, a senior data scientist at Civis Analytics, a data science company born out of the 2012 Obama reelection campaign. “Response rates (for opinion surveys) used to be at 12 percent and now they are under one percent.”

While the response rates have decreased, Shor said that despite technological advances, political campaigns are not far off from what they used to be.

“There are still clipboards and people are still knocking on doors,” he said.

What has changed is now, according to Shor, is that television and digital advertisements can be tested for effectiveness to see what can be better done in terms of the next election cycle.

As far as this election cycle goes, even the highest level of technology cannot predict what will happen in the coming weeks.

“It will be really interesting to see what happens on November 8,” Hoover said.