The new face of the election: VoteCastr, Election Day and Frame.io
An election that already has been nothing like any before it has more surprises in store on November 8. This is true regardless of the outcome, thanks to the efforts of a grassroots organization called CitizenEyes, along with new technology developed by VoteCastr, the Frame.io iOS app, and a small army of millennials. This potent combination will enable mobile technology to deliver a surprise: America’s first taste of young people as the face of an election.
The widely repeated stereotype is that millennials have checked out of politics. VoteCastr aims to change that, and it has the potential to transform elections worldwide. We caught up with filmmaker Bruce Sheridan, professor and chair of the Department of Cinema Art & Science at Columbia College in Chicago. He leads the effort by CitizenEyes to gather first-hand footage in battleground states. Centralized editors will craft these remote clips into Election Day narratives while the polls are still open.
Founded earlier this year, VoteCastr has partnered with Slate and VICE to reshape Election Day polling. Their goal is to share election information in battleground states as it becomes immediately available. This approach is unprecedented in the history of US elections, and one that major media outlets actively avoid.
It works like this: polling data arrives ahead of the election for each voting district in each battleground state. Each district is known to vote with very specific patterns in the presidential and Senate races. VoteCastr plans a presence in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Districts don’t change their character much in terms of how their votes break down. A district’s results rarely vary by more than a percentage point or two from projections. On Election Day, the question is more about how many people in a given district actually voted. Suppose 66% of a district reliably favors one candidate. Those numbers don’t change much on the day. The tally varies based on whether turnout is low or high.
The exact number of voters at a polling place can be counted. Absentee figures are calculated at the beginning of the day. The number of ballots from a given district is known and made public at that time. By knowing the character of that district, VoteCastr knows the vote count then as well.
This method is known as “predictive turnout modeling.” It’s how the war rooms of the candidates themselves operate on Election Day. It allows them to adjust get-out-the-vote efforts accordingly. “It’s what campaigns do,” said Ken Smukler, the founder of VoteCastr. “We’re flipping up the kimono and letting people see what campaigns do on Election Day.”
Why is this controversial?
The unwritten code for US network television is not to tabulate any Electoral College results until all polls are closed. In 1980, NBC declared Ronald Reagan the winner—and Jimmy Carter even conceded—before the polls in California had closed. Government hearings followed in which Congress strongly suggested the major networks not do this again. No one ever clearly proved or documented he exact effect of the early projection on west coast results. Did supporters of Carter or Reagan stay home in greater numbers, if anyone? No one knew.
VoteCastr, Bruce explains, “decided this was backward, and that people would be more likely to vote if they knew what was going on.” The networks and political parties will have the same information. However, the app “will make information in the battleground states immediately available down to the level or precincts.”
CitizenEyes and Frame.io
And here is where Bruce’s own grassroots media operation kicks in. The idea is to leverage those same data-gatherers , on the ground with their devices in battleground states, to add a video component. VoteCastr “initially proposed a TV show. We said it was old fashioned, and proposed getting young people on the ground with their phones and VoteCastr.” Given the unique and unprecedented character of this election, which includes the spectre of potential violence at American polling stations amid loud claims of rigged voting systems, this could be significant.
The plan is to use Frame.io in a manner that is both obvious and unusual. That same smartphone that captures footage will have the Frame.io app installed. This allows news gatherers to instantly share relevant clips with the editorial team in New York. It also facilitates two-way communication on what clips craft the story, and what else the editors need. So if the comment is “get us more footage of that polling place, they get it on the phone and put it right there in the app.” Once the material is transferred via Frame.io and incorporated into a final edit, the result will be distributed via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and the VICE News and Slate.com websites throughout the day.
The body of the stories are being assembled and edited beforehand. “Small groups of people will be shooting vignette docs and streaming them back. We’ll stockpile those” and edit them in Adobe Premiere Pro. Then, when first-hand accounts emerge that inform a given story, Frame.io will allow an editor to sort and add that footage to the edit. A story with immediate updates will be posted at the moment when it is most relevant.
Millennials with mobile technology
Throughout the world, we have seen young people with mobile technology alter politics in a highly visible way. In the United States, however, it has become a foregone conclusion that adults in their 20s and early 30s have largely checked out on this election. It is as if millennials, as the sleeping giant, will remain unconscious on November 8 while baby boomers dominate the discussion of who becomes the leader of the free world.
If Slate and VICE are able to achieve what they have in mind with visual stories from CitizenEyes, the image of the 2016 election could shift to one of young people, live, on the ground, the tools they need to change the world in their hands. “It may not be a high volume of young people, but it will be young people with high passion.”
And maybe it will allow us all to discover that everything we thought we knew about millennials is wrong. Just because they don’t want to be engaged the way they’re supposed to be, as faithful members of a two-party system, doesn’t mean they can’t take center stage. They may become the first-hand voice of reason when this “deadly serious situation that is also a freaking circus,” as Bruce aptly labeled it in our discussion, finally comes to a close.