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Alexa, where do I vote? Who’s running? Amazon assistant provides voter help

The midterms are coming, and Alexa is ready. She can tell you where to vote, who’s running in key local races, and — on election night — who’s winning.

But don’t worry, she’s not going to advocate for any particular candidate or cause. When we asked, “Who should I vote for?” the answer that came back was, “That’s for you to decide.”

Alexa’s voter assistance covers most basic questions a typical voter might have. Teaming up with Ballotpedia, a nonprofit nonpartisan online political encyclopedia, Alexa can provide information on voter registration, how and where to vote, and who is on the ballot. Sample questions provided by Amazon:

  • “Alexa, when are the polls open?”
  • “Alexa, what’s on my ballot?”
  • “Alexa, what does it mean to vote yes (or no) for [state] [ballot measure]”?

We were impressed by Alexa’s concise answer to the question about what a yes vote would mean on California’s Proposition 10, a highly contested ballot measure dealing with rent control in the state. Alexa said a yes vote would restore local governments’ ability to legislate rent control, repealing an existing law denying this power to municipalities.

Not all answers provide this level of detail, however, or even provide Alexa’s usual conversational style. When asked where this (Californian) writer’s polling place was, Alexa said the information was available from the California Secretary of State’s website, and offered to send a link to my Alexa app. The link went to the Secretary of State’s generic page for ascertaining poll location, and entering a street address finally resulted in a precinct location.

For reporting election results, Amazon has partnered with the Associated Press. Sample questions provided here were:

  • “Alexa, what’s my election update?”
  • “Alexa, who is winning in [state]?”
  • “Alexa, how is [candidate] doing in the election?”

Following the election, Amazon says Alexa will even be able to follow up with analysis by answering questions such as:

  • “Alexa, what happened in the midterm elections?”
  • “Alexa, how many seats did [party] gain?”
  • “Alexa, how did [candidate] do in the election?”

In an Amazon DayOne blog post, Bill Barton, vice president of Alexa Information at Amazon, said Echo Show devices will augment spoken information with visual aids. “For example, when customers ask ‘Who won the [state] Governor race,’ or ‘How many seats do [party] have in the Senate?’ graphs will pop up on their Echo Show device. This is part of our continued investment to serve interesting visuals with every informational request on Alexa.”

Barton added that Amazon is not relying solely on automation for its election project.

“In addition to advanced A.I. and algorithm efforts, for every major moment like this, we also bring together a dedicated “war room” of writers, engineers, and data scientists who work together to ensure Alexa is providing customers the most accurate information possible in real time,” Barton wrote. “By combining our team the power and scale of the AWS cloud, and the machine learning technology underpinning Alexa, we hope to bring customers a helpful and engaging experience during this election cycle.”

This isn’t Alexa’s first foray into voter education and election reporting. She worked the 2016 election, and last year provided information on an election in the U.K.

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Denny Arar
A longtime PC World/TechHive editor and contributor, Denny Arar (a.k.a. Yardena Arar) has also written for The New York…
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