AWS Public Sector Blog

How nonprofit civic organizations use the cloud to meet registration demand and modernize voter education

Voter registration

Tuesday, September 22, 2020 is National Voter Registration Day, a nonpartisan civic holiday in the United States celebrating democracy with a mission to create broad awareness of registration opportunities for voters. On National Voter Registration Day and throughout the election cycle, nonprofit civic organizations use the cloud to meet their mission in a secure, scalable, and cost-effective way.

With the support of election administrators, civic organizations encourage voters to verify their registration, register to vote, learn about early voting, find their polling place, request ballots, sign-up for election reminders, and gather other important election information.

Learn how nonprofit civic organizations use digital platforms, powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS), to register voters online, mobilize volunteers, and educate citizens.

Registering, educating, and engaging voters

Democracy Works (DW) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. They set out to build the necessary tools to upgrade election infrastructure, and improve the voting experience for voters and election officials. TurboVote—DWs’ flagship tool—helps voters register, stay registered, and cast a ballot in every election, from municipal to national.

While it took DW five years to reach its first million users on TurboVote, they served a record five million new users in 2018 alone, scaling with the use of AWS. In the lead-up to federal elections, TurboVote is prepared to receive millions of visitors in a single week. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and Amazon DynamoDB allow them to scale on demand, making it possible for TurboVote to handle tens of thousands of concurrent users on its busiest days without having to pay for dedicated infrastructure year round.

Through the Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan coalition co-founded by DW, DW is helping identify 250,000 new poll workers to support safe and secure elections this November. Looking ahead, DW plans to expand the reach of their tools, as more voters look to cast their ballots by mail. By working with election officials across the country to set up mail tracking through the use of Intelligent Mail barcodes, DW’s Ballot Scout allows both administrators and voters to track every ballot like an Amazon package. States like Virginia have partnered with Ballot Scout to increase voter confidence in voting by mail.

Rock the Vote, one of the largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations in the U.S. that drives the youth vote to the polls, hosts their registration platform and services on the AWS Cloud. Rock the Vote’s voter registration platform is a free, open source solution that makes voter registration easier for voters and partner organizations across the country. Moving Rock the Vote’s platform to the AWS Cloud allowed for increased scalability for an increasingly mobile society, with the same robust service and approach to security AWS delivers worldwide.

“Cloud technology combined with open data, open standards, and open source development can be a game-changer in election administration,” said Teresa Carlson, vice president, public sector at Amazon Web Services (AWS). “Leveraging the AWS Cloud’s highly scalable and secure infrastructure will help enable Rock the Vote to raise the bar on innovative voter registration services.”

Nonprofits U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) helps American citizens register to vote and sign up for absentee ballots wherever they are—at home or abroad. Founded as Overseas Vote in 2005, the foundation developed and launched the U.S.’s first comprehensive online voter services site, offering registration, ballot request, and information for voters outside the U.S. This includes military personnel, overseas government employees, and U.S. citizens living abroad.

U.S. Vote offers registration, state-specific absentee ballot request, and a full-range of information services. The AWS Cloud provides the flexibility, scalability, and reliability that US Vote requires.

“We can scale up and down in terms of capacity very quickly,” said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, U.S. Vote president and chief operating officer. “In voting, there are huge fluctuations in traffic: it starts to build up in the summer, hits big in the fall, and then it drops off a cliff after Election Day. It’s a unique dynamic in terms of user demand and costs.”

AWS enables U.S. Vote to manage their costs better by scaling instances up and down as needed. The team is using Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) in multiple Availability Zones to increase reliability. They also use Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2)Elastic Load Balancing, and Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES).

Since 1920, the League of Women Voters (LWV) has sought to improve U.S. systems of government and impact public policies through education and advocacy. The LWV Education Fund (LWVEF) runs the website VOTE411.org, which provides nonpartisan election information to the public. As a website devoted to elections, VOTE411.org experiences surges in volume over the period leading up to Election Day during federal election years.

“The choice to move to the cloud was clear,” said Jeanette Senecal, senior director, LWVEF. “AWS was exactly what we needed: a hosting solution that scaled seamlessly.”

Elizabeth Leslie, communication manager for League of Women Voters of California adds, “We are grateful to AWS for keeping our sites running and helping us serve millions of voters in California and across our nation. As a small nonprofit organization, AWS helps us continue to provide safe service to all our websites and continues to safely serve the many voters who will be looking to us for help during the 2020 election season. This work encourages civic participation and makes our democracy thrive.”

Vote.org is one of the most used nonpartisan voter registration and get out the vote (GOTV) technology platforms in America. Vote.org has registered more than 4.5 million voters, verified 10.3 million voters’ registration statuses, and helped more than 39 million website users by providing registration links and deadlines, polling location details, and other essential voting information for each state. In 2020, Vote.org is on track to serve 12 times the number of people it served in 2018. The organization plans to turn out more than five million low-propensity voters in November’s presidential election. Vote.org has been hosting on AWS since its inception in 2015. Even before its launch, Vote.org used AWS technology and people to help build its initial scale and security. Since launch, Vote.org has worked hard to follow the AWS Well Architected Framework, and expanded its use of AWS services to include Amazon S3, Amazon CloudWatch, Amazon GuardDuty, Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS), AWS Lambda, AWS CloudFormation, AWS CloudTrail, and AWS Shield.

BallotReady provides a free and nonpartisan source for information on the entire ballot for every election. It’s powered by the most comprehensive database from every level of politics, utilizing the security and reliability of Amazon RDS. The goal for 2020: help 50 million voters request a ballot, find a polling place, and vote informed downballot. Started in 2015, BallotReady has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and the University of Chicago. In 2018, BallotReady was live nationwide, covering 95,000 candidates with over 7.8 million visitors to their sites. BallotReady is built on AWS, from the serverless architecture of AWS Lambda to the ability to efficiently turn on Amazon RDS replicas at a moment’s notice.

Alex Niemczewski, chief executive officer (CEO) of BallotReady said, “AWS has allowed us to scale for Election Day in ways that would otherwise be impossible. The breadth of AWS products focused on security, along with the account management team and countless resources help us retain the support and trust of our users that is crucial to building our platform and tools to inform and turnout voters.”

Learn more about elections on AWS. Discover how elections administrators, political campaigns, and civic organizations use AWS to improve the voter experience with AWS elections lead Michael Jackson. And check out episode #23 of the Fix This podcast.