Ahead of the November general election where Philadelphians will have the chance to vote for a new governor, US senator and local representatives, the Mayor’s Office has launched a refreshed, more secure voting website.
The Office of Innovation and Technology’s (OIT) digital services and software engineering teams partnered with the Office of the City Commissioners to build vote.phila.gov, which has information about voter deadlines, how and where to register to vote, how to apply for a mail-in ballot and how to find your polling place, among other details.
The site launched at the end of August after a year of work from the parties involved, according to Karissa Demi, director of software engineering for OIT. Demi said the new website is a complete redesign of the old one, which had been around for about 10 years.
“The idea is that you can find everything that was on the old site, but hopefully in an information architecture that’s a little bit more streamlined,” she said.
This site is also safer than the old one, Demi said. Around the time of the 2020 election, when there were a lot of concerns about election security, OIT did a deep dive into its current website. Once they realized how old the system and the servers were, they decided to take action — it had been operating on a content management system that was no longer supported, which was a security risk. Demi said her office decided to work with the city commissioners on the redesign because they were managing something “insecure.”
The team also made improvements to make the website faster and more mobile friendly, and they made some accessibility improvements. The site now works well with screen readers, making navigating the site for visually impaired folks more easily.
Along with practical voting information, vote.phila.gov has information for poll workers and for those who might be wondering how to volunteer at the polls. There’s also a section for candidates and campaigns offering information for people running for office and a resources and data section which provides links to different places where city commissioners manage their results information.
And you can also find important dates, news articles, press information and contact information for city commissioners, Demi said, as well as an internal search function. Demi said the Office of the City Commissioners also revamped the content on the site so it was easier to read and easier to translate.
“The key improvement of the new site is that it’s human translated into Spanish and Chinese, which the old site was just using Google Translate, and that was adequate, but often not ideal,” she said.
This website also hosts the city’s first progressive web app, meaning you can add the website to your phone’s home screen and access it as if it were a native application. Demi said this feature was a priority from the beginning because the City commissioners wanted the site to be available to as many people as possible.
“This was a way for us to give that functionality without needing to build a native application,” Demi said. “Which we have a good team of developers, but we don’t have anyone that can do native application development for mobile devices.”
OIT has an external sites project that allows them to create these sites relatively quickly, using infrastructure that is custom-built in house. Demi said that infrastructure was already there, and was the foundation for this new website. Software engineer Jai Pyneni did most of the WordPress and frontend work, software engineer Derrick Dieso built the external sites framework, and Stacy Finnaren, a digital designer, designed the site’s new look and feel. According to Demi, the goal of the new site is for users to find the voter resources they are looking for more easily.
“The goal would be that if you have not registered to vote, the site helps you achieve that. If you need to get a mail in ballot, that you can do that,” she said. “Really anything kind of related to getting people to the polls. That’s what the site is, is meant to do.”
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.