MapLight’s Comprehensive Voter Guide Expanding to New York, Illinois

The nonpartisan money-and-politics watchdog MapLight is expanding their deep-dive voter guide, Voter’s Edge, to New York and Illinois next year. Voter’s Edge was created to put “good civic info in front of voters,” says MapLight president and co-founder Daniel Newman, and the best way MapLight has determined they can do that is to provide detailed candidate information all the way down to the local level, even if that limits the geographic areas they can cover.

At a brown bag lunch at Civic Hall last month, Newman explained that Voter’s Edge was originally conceived as an “antidote to negative advertising.”

“An informed electorate is essential to a functioning democracy,” Newman added.

Voter’s Edge was first launched in California in 2010 to explain several ballot propositions—including one that wanted to suspend a landmark environmental law—and expanded nationally in 2014. It let voters in all 50 states know who was on their statewide ballot, and included some supplemental information like biographical information, and funding sources. Voters could fill out the ballot the way they would at the voting booth and, if they wanted, share it on social media.

But, with the exception of California, Newman admits, the information available on Voter’s Edge was pretty thin. They didn’t have the capacity to drill down to the local level in all 50 states.

California’s Voter’s Edge, however—the result of a partnership between MapLight and the League of Women Voters of California—included detailed candidate information, like endorsements, all the way down to the local level. It also provided information about ballot measures, including money spent in support and in opposition, and links to editorials and news articles written about them.

Screenshot of the funding page for this 2014 candidate for California's Attorney General.

Screenshot of the funding page for this 2014 candidate for California’s Attorney General.

MapLight recorded 728,000 unique visitors to the California site, the rough equivalent of one in 10 California voters, based on the 2014 turnout of 7.4 million.

Newman told the group gathered at Civic Hall that local information gave the most value because the local level is where voter’s have the least amount of information. For this reason, MapLight has decided to only focus their efforts this election season in states where they can go down to that level: California, Illinois, and New York.

All three sites will be up and ready to go in the spring for primary elections. The Voter’s Edge research team will be collecting the data in Illinois and New York but they are looking for organizational partners that might be able to assist. They are also interested in partnering with media organizations.