Read the original story here in The Oregonian.
Students and professors at Portland State University are creating an online GIS mapping project to encourage more people to run in local elections.
First, users enter their address. Ballot Path, as it is called, then provides a list of all the elected positions for which they are eligible to run, from drain commissioner all the way up to president of the United States. It also gives a list of the requirements to run for each office, as well as paperwork filing deadlines.
When it launches in August, any Oregon resident would theoretically be able to access this information for their own voting districts.
Ballot Path founders hope the finished product will help offer everyday voters — those with no prior political experience — the chance to run for "starter" positions on school boards and other types of local government offices. The group received a $10,000 grant from the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit noted for its work to promote government transparency.
Project founder Jim Cupples, a resident of Springfield, Oregon, and director of the local historical museum, got the idea when he voted in a local election and noticed a candidate running unopposed for community college trustee. Why bother voting, he thought, with only one option?
"It's crazy to me that we constantly use this metric of voter turnout to equate how healthy our democracy is," Cupples said. "You can have 100 percent voter turnout and one person running for the race, but that does not mean a healthy democracy."
He brought the idea to Phil Keisling, former secretary of state and member of the Oregon House of Representatives, who now is the director of the Center for Public Service at PSU's Hatfield School of Government. Keisling and Warren Harrison, chairman of the computer science department, designed Ballot Path to be a capstone course for computer science students.
Cupples said he hopes Ballot Path will help erode the gatekeeper role of political parties, in which those who wish to run for office must first put in time as an aide or volunteer for those currently in power.
Dave Brat's stunning victory in Virginia over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is evidence, he said, that outsiders have the power to afflict party favorites and all-too-comfortable incumbents.
"Coming as an outsider from politics, you don't have the infrastructure that people inside politics have," he said. "I'm doing Ballot Path for the single parent who wants to be on their kid's school board, but isn't being groomed by the town's elite."
--Ian K. Kullgren