HavingTroubleVoting.com is one of our latest projects to come out of our election coverage. It was born when fellow reporter, Allison Yarrow, whom I (Michael) sit across from, was talking about how we should do something to make voting issues fascinatingly interesting and digital. A Google Form, some reading about issues facing voters, and some CSS media calls later, we had a mobile-friendly submission form tied to a Leaflet map.
We partnered with Mother Jones who had a similar project since the task of verifying so many reports (at last count ~700) is quite a process. As you can see, we took a different approach with this one: the site has a separate URL and we built it completely outside of our CMS. We took inspiration from the question-URL-based Guardian US project IsBarackObamaThePresident.com. I’m a fan because it lends itself to be more creative and have a longer shelf-life than a story that goes into a regular CMS, has a timestamp and all that. It also gives itself a catchy url that’s easy to remember.
Under the hood
We ran into some issues being rate-limited using the results of our Google Form as a data source so I wrote in some middleware with R that pulls down the form, does the geocoding for new entries (to avoid geocoding rate-limits) and let me put it on S3 easily.
Originally we were geo-locating the submissions based on browser location (since the main thinking was for mobile) but the percentage of successful tags was lower than expected. We also decided we would rather geocode based on the address people wrote in as opposed to their browser. I used a version of this geocoder to grab new entries every hour or so and make a new file to upload.
We’re still going through the results and collecting more, if you have any, let us know! We’re pretty much always online at firstname.lastname@example.org.