Bexar County, like the rest of Texas, has seen historically high turnout since early voting started on Oct. 13.
By Thursday, more than 360,000 people had cast ballots early in Bexar County. High voter turnout brings longer lines, and some counties in Texas have websites where voters can check the estimated wait times at each polling site. Now, Bexar County has a similar solution.
MOVE Texas and Irys, a local government tech company that created the City of San Antonio’s 311 app, partnered to create the Move the Line web-based app to help voters find polling places with shorter lines.
The app can be used on any device with internet access, such as cellphones or laptop computers. Users can click on the “Map” button to look at the wait times around the county, or press the button that says, “I’m in line. Start the clock.”
The app relies on people using it to gather wait time data, CEO Beto Altamirano said. The company already had the necessary tools built from previous apps, such as geolocation ability. Nothing else is collected from the user, he stressed – just the voting location and how long it takes them to make it to the front of the line.
“Even though the Bexar County Elections Department has failed to provide adequate resources for voters, we’re committed to making sure every eligible voter has the information they need to cast a ballot safely,” MOVE Executive Director H. Drew Galloway said in a news release announcing the app Thursday morning.
Irys studied the Travis County polling places wait time website as a reference for their own product. The company donated its developers’ time and is committed to providing free tech support for it going forward, Altamirano said.
While Irys developed the app, MOVE Texas has the infrastructure in place to mobilize voters and put the app in more people’s hands, Altamirano said.
“We hope to use MOVE Texas and their connections throughout the state so we can continue to mobilize people through the use of the platform,” he said. “Think of it as a 1.0 version that will evolve into a 2.0, and that would evolve into having other features that will make the product more robust.”
The app took about 70 hours of manpower to create, according to Altamirano. Starting last Wednesday, three engineers worked around the clock to put together the product, and then the company gave it to beta testers over the weekend. The testers came from a local Facebook group that also helps voters crowdsource information about shorter wait times at polling places around Bexar County.
The Facebook group and app were both conceived at the same time, MOVE Texas board member Mario Bravo said. He witnessed the long lines on the first day of early voting and by Wednesday connected leadership at MOVE with Irys. People may not have the time to wait in long lines due to job or familial obligations, Bravo pointed out, but there’s also an added health risk during the coronavirus pandemic.
“If you get to a voting site and there’s a large crowd and you have to spend an extended amount of time there, that increases your health risk during a pandemic,” he said. “The hope is that this could help limit that as well.”
Bravo said MOVE and Irys wanted to see a standalone product that could be used in future elections. But an app takes time to make and the people behind the Facebook group recognized that. The Bexar County Voting Locations Wait Time group has gained more than 5,700 members since its creation last Wednesday.
“[The Facebook group] has been a big success, and it has filled a need without a doubt,” Bravo said. “This has the potential, I think, to be a more efficient long term solution.”