The Help America Vote Challenge sponsored by the Jack Brooks Foundation (JBF) was a powerful reminder that crowdsourcing projects can take many forms and still be incredibly successful. Unlike other technical challenges that usually seek to solve a specific, well-defined problem, the Help America Vote Challenge sought to address the multi-faceted issue of increasing voter turnout by asking participants to both identify a problem contributing to the issue and propose a possible solution. This issue is at the heart of JBF’s mission - to empower all Americans to actively participate in the voting process during every national and local election.
While many challenges ask for solutions to clearly-defined problems, the Help America Vote Challenge asked participants to not only propose a solution, but to also identify what specific problem is being solved. The challenge outlined the general theme of low voter turnout and a few starting points, but otherwise participants were expected to select a problem or factor that contributes to low voter turnout and develop a solution to it as part of their entry. Instead of having a very detailed list of performance specifications that a solution must have demonstrated to win, the Help America Vote Challenge was more interested in the potential impact and scalability of proposed solutions, in addition to the requirements that a solution must be non-partisan and be submitted by a citizen of the United States. This freedom allowed the community to respond with ideas that address different aspects of low voter turnout.
This challenge received 98 submissions and awarded a prize purse of $15,000 to three different winners. There is sometimes a misperception that when challenges reach a successful conclusion, the problem is solved. But almost always, the end of the challenge is just the beginning of the next step. The Help America Vote Challenge is a great example of this. Its winning teams proposed a wide variety of approaches that tackled different aspects of the low voter turnout issue, like getting IDs, overcoming cultural barriers, and improving voter engagement within targeted communities. Figuring out ways to increase voter turnout has been a perennial issue for many groups, including the Jack Brooks Foundation. The results from this challenge have created connections between JBF and new groups that JBF might not have otherwise met, and they show how crowdsourcing can be a useful tool for addressing complicated issues.