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City of Calgary Election iPhone App Review

By DJ Kelly October 6, 2010

I’ve been having a bit of “back and forth” via email with the City of Calgary’s Deputy City Clerk and Returning Officer for the past couple months.

On July 29 I originally asked her about the possibility of creating a “where to vote” widget, similar to what the City has (or at that point, would have) on their website. My idea was that if the Javascript behind the widget on the City’s site was made public, any candidate or third party such as CalgaryDemocracy.ca or CalgaryPolitics.com could include it on their website. The concept of course being that the easier it is to find out what ward you live in and where you can vote, the more likely we would be to have a higher turnout.

It took a few weeks, but I was eventually shut down and told this would not be happening for a variety of reasons. (Because of a confidentiality statement at the bottom of every City of Calgary originating email, I can’t share the exact obstacles given. Not that I agree with them anyway. But I digress.)

Needless to say I was super excited when I got an email last week from Ms. Clifford telling me that the City had developed an election iPhone app which would be include the widget I requested. As the app was still awaiting approval from the Apple App Store, she asked that I not say anything about the app until it was available.

And today is that day! So here’s your link. If you have an iPhone go download it.

Of course I got Ms. Clifford’s email about the release of the app AFTER having already read about it on Twitter, so my “scoop” wasn’t to be. So instead I’m going to offer the first review of the app.

The app is developed by Purple Forge who have created several other election-related applications for candidates and even the Ontario PC Party. Right now their website front page is loaded with the various apps they’ve created for elections. With the municipal elections in Canada and the mid-terms in the US they are obviously very busy in this arena. They are probably best known to Calgarians however for creating the Calgary Stampede app that was released this year.

The application itself is full of information. Tabs include: Information for Electors (Voters), Who are the Candidates, Election FAQ, Election and City of Calgary Videos (YouTube), First Time Voters, Advance Voting Information, Physically Incapacitated Voters, Request a Mail-In (Special) Ballot, Voter ID Requirements, City of Calgary Ward Maps, Local Authorities Election Act, Election News, and Contact the Elections Office. Basically it includes everything that is on the City of Calgary’s website (calgary.ca/election) but in a format that is much easier to navigate.

By far and away the two best features of the app however are the Where to Vote widget and the Election Buzz tabs.

The Where to Vote option asks you for your address and then tells you what ward you live in and the address and name of the polling place for you on October 18. It even comes with a Google Map showing you exactly where that location is. The only thing that could make this feature better is having the ability to open the Google Map in the iPhone’s native Maps app (powered by Google anyway) so that the user can get exact directions from where they are to the polling place via car, on foot, or – best of all – by transit.

The Election Buzz tab is nothing more than an aggregation of the #yycvote Twitter hashtag, which, because CalgaryPolitics.com was the site that decided on that hashtag and I’m an active user of it, I can obviously get behind. I like this feature because it makes the “buzz” available to citizens who are not Twitter users and have no reason to go search for something called “#yycvote” on a website they don’t use.

The majority of the other features, such as the Voter ID requirements, are text based and do exactly what they need to do: give voters the info in one handy place. However some of these features could certainly be greatly improved.

For example the Request a Mail-In (Special) Ballot does not have a form that a user could simply fill in and click “submit” like the Where to Vote option. Instead it only gives you the phone number and mailing address of where you need to contact to request a special ballot. Similarly the list of candidates feature is nothing more than a link to a PDF file. A more robust option would include details on the candidates or at the very least contact details or a link to their websites. I know this is not something the City of Calgary does currently, but it’s time they caught up with the 21st Century and helped make it easier for voters to get information on candidates, not just to process of voting. This is the perfect location to start accepting that responsibility. I mean, heck, they include some of the websites in the PDF already. While we’re at it, it would be good if the candidates came up when you used the Where to Vote feature too.

Likewise it would be nice if the Ward Map feature was more interactive than just a PDF map that is very difficult to read on the small iPhone screen.

It would also be nice if the video section worked. Currently it goes to a “This video has been removed by the user” screen. Basically it’s useless right now.

I also like the feature which allows you to connect to your Twitter or Facebook accounts and then share any page of the app with your friends. This is more of what we should be seeing from the City: the ability to use citizens to help spread the message about the election.

In all, the app is very well done and I would give it a 7 out of 10. Or in iTunes store speak, 3.5 out of 5. For only the second City of Calgary app I think we’re seeing some very good work happening.

Of course I wish we would have had it months ago, but I’m picky like that.

Cross posted to CalgaryPolitics.com

  • Paul Newmarch

    Thanks for the review DJ. I’m part of the Corporate Marketing & Communications team that worked on this project. We had a hiccup with YouTube, but the video tab is up and working now.