Since 1920, the State of New Hampshire has held its presidential primary elections before any other state, making it a critical first step on the road to the White House. New Hampshire marks the centennial of its first-in-the-nation presidential primary on February 11, 2020. In the last 100 years, government officials and constituents have witnessed changes to election laws, procedures, and – perhaps most notable of all – the use of technology to provide information and facilitate voting. From the advent of computers and the Internet, to the evolution from paper ballots to mechanical lever machines and optical scan voting systems, technology has transformed the delivery of elections information.

Ahead of the 2020 presidential primary election, New Hampshire enhanced its use of technology in elections to better support constituents and improve voter accessibility. Working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and its partners, the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s office developed an Amazon Alexa Skill to provide election information to voters by voice, and is developing a new web portal that will serve as a “digital front door” to the same robust content in other formats.

The new communication vehicles anchor a data-driven omnichannel strategy to modernize the voter experience and deliver information securely and accurately.

Alexa Skill delivers information on demand

The Alexa Skill, “State of New Hampshire Elections,” is a first-of-its-kind application of voice-first technology for comprehensive, statewide election information. The Alexa Skill makes it easy for any voter with an Alexa-enabled device — including any smartphone with the Alexa app — to access New Hampshire elections information.

For example, a user can tell any Alexa device or smartphone: “Alexa, enable State of New Hampshire Elections,” and then ask a question such as, “Alexa, ask State of New Hampshire Elections … how can I register to vote?” or “Alexa, ask State of New Hampshire Elections … where is my polling place?” Information about registration status, absentee ballots, the voting process for overseas and uniformed military personnel, and more is also available.

By enabling public access to governmental information and processes through popular technology, the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office is raising awareness and engagement in New Hampshire elections and is leading the country in the use of technology to advance civic engagement.

“The Alexa Skill is a tremendous value-add for New Hampshire voters,” said David Scanlan, New Hampshire deputy secretary of state. “We are very excited about its potential. It will allow us to reach not only the general population, but also a new generation of voters who tend to use digital channels and devices more than others do. We’re also excited for what this means for the disabled community. The Alexa Skill enables broad access to information without keystrokes.”

The Elections Division partnered with VoiceXP, an AWS partner, to build the Alexa Skill. VoiceXP makes “the of Voice,” a no-code platform anyone can use to build and maintain an Alexa Skill. Once the initial planning phase was complete, the app took less than three months to build and deploy. When the app launched in December 2019, it was the first statewide rollout of a comprehensive Alexa Skill for elections.

The Elections Division is promoting the Alexa Skill with Alexa questions on social media, posters at public libraries, and tent cards in town clerk offices. This modernization initiative will continue to gain traction as constituents become aware of its availability and the expanding types of information it provides. “People are going to want to know the results after the presidential primary – if they know this is available, people will use it,” Scanlan noted.

In recognition of its efforts, New Hampshire is a finalist for the 2020 IDEAS Award, which honors innovation and excellence in state programming. It will showcase its work at the National Association of Secretaries of State Summer Conference, July 19-22 in Reno, NV, where the award recipient will be announced.

Other divisions of the New Hampshire Department of State, including the Corporation Division, Vital Records, and State Archives, plan to develop Alexa Skills to make customer interactions more convenient. Other states are watching the project closely.

New website will be a trusted portal to elections information

To further engage voters, candidates, media, and the general public, the new Elections Division website will serve as a single source of state elections information. It will also serve as a portal to other relevant, validated information sources on the web. Like the Alexa Skill, it will help users get to the information they are looking for as quickly and easily as possible.

The portal also includes a robust notification system where users can opt-in to provide limited contact information and preferred methods, like text messaging, by which the Secretary of State’s office can deliver additional guidance and updates. This includes filing deadlines and reminders about absentee ballots. “We want to be able to provide information proactively, instead of waiting for people to come back to us,” Scanlan said. “At the same time, the confidentiality of voter data is protected.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs