Google App May Have Sent Thousands of Voters to the Wrong Polling Stations
Google’s civic-minded search tools providing information to Election Day voters won wide praise among followers of tech and politics alike. But according to an analysis released by a political tech firm called Aristotle, one of Google’s Election Center apps could have directed many thousands of voters to the wrong polling station.
A study Tuesday by Aristotle, a political technology company, predicts that more than 700,000 households in a collection of 12 battleground states may have experienced errors on the site that told them to head to the wrong polling stations.
Aristotle premised its prediction on a series of simulations: The company selected about 1,000 households in targeted states, compared their polling place data against Google’s app and derived an error rate it later used to predict the number of area households possibly affected by the mishap.
A more detailed data breakdown via Fast Company, which was also in touch with Aristotle:
The error rate from the Google tool, according to Aristotle’s analysis, ranged from 0.001% (for Iowa) to 18% (for the state of Washington). Extrapolating from that data, Aristotle estimated that Google’s data had incorrect polling place information for about 727,000 households in those 12 states (Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, DC, and Washington state).
Google PR’s response: “We are constantly updating the tool to make sure it reflects the most up-to-date information provided to us by the Board of Elections.”
The results of this survey shouldn’t be overblown, however, as they have been in some quarters — 727,000 households with incorrect polling place information provided by Google is very different from 727,000 households acting on that incorrect information; as the data in question comes from a (still reasonably widely distributed) Google app rather than Google’s search engine, it’s likely that only a fraction of the affected voters would’ve made bad Election Day decisions based on Google’s faulty app.
If anything, this saga illustrates the excess of trust that people put into Google: Shouldn’t you get a second source beyond a search engine when you’re about to make the slog out to a faraway, crowded polling place? Still, this is important information to be trading in, and if Aristotle’s report is accurate, Google messed this up pretty badly: If their information was this error-ridden, Google should have sat this one out. Voting is too important to leave in beta.
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