California Launches Election Info Alexa Skill Built by VoiceXP
California’s Secretary of State announced a new Alexa skill this week to provide information for people in the state about how to vote and the subsequent results. Voice app developer VoiceXP built the California Election skill in a partnership with Amazon Web Services and the Secretary of State’s office, extending the state’s database to Alexa-enabled devices.
The voice app is available for anyone to use but is aimed especially at voters in California with disabilities. Those who might have difficulty seeking answers to election questions on a website can ask Alexa and get the official response in an oral format. The Secretary of State’s office claims the voice app can answer any relevant query about the state’s election, including the times and dates for in-person voting, where the user can find the closest polling location. Along with responding to the questions vocally, the skill can also text the information, such as the nearest polling place, to a user’s phone if they choose. After the votes are counted, the voice app will share who the various races when asked.
“Promoting civic participation starts by providing voters easy access to elections information,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement. “A California elections specific skill on Amazon Alexa-enabled devices provides voters with the resources they need to participate in our democracy.”
VoiceXP’s role in shepherding the voice app to the Alexa Skill Store builds on the new features the company introduced late last year as it shifted from an agency to a Software-as-a-Service model, which CEO Bob Stolzberg described at the time in an interview with Voicebot should be “Craigslist simple.” VoiceXP can publish voice apps on all the major platforms, but the choice of Alexa makes sense as the startup is an advanced tier partner with Amazon in part because of Alexa’s general dominance in the space.
Voice for Democracy
The part played by AWS in setting up the Alexa skill isn’t clear. When asked, Amazon only pointed to a blog post from earlier this year about Alexa’s expanded ability to answer questions about the election, so it may simply be that the voice assistant can use the larger database to respond to national election questions in tandem with the statewide answers from the new voice app. Amazon first added answers on political races to Alexa before the 2018 midterm elections, including ballot information and voter registration rules. This year’s upgrades include candidate information, polling logistics, and how to register.
Google Assistant uploaded its own crop of election information recently, focused on helping people get their votes in, and integrated the Google News AI into Google Assistant back in 2018. Meanwhile, Apple connected Siri to election data from Apple News and public sources in February, combined with an ABC News deal to do real-time video broadcasts through a Siri request on election nights. California’s voice app on Alexa focuses on the end-user, but IBM has been bringing its Watson AI to the election official’s end of things. IBM offers an election-focused version of Watson to states for free that can answer phone calls from people who want answers about how to vote. The AI, which integrates into chatbot and voice platforms, can answer basic voting questions customized to its operating state. Idaho and Louisiana have both augmented their services with Watson.