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2018 Government Innovation Awards

A smarter way to track campaign financing

In the pursuit of accurate and accessible campaign finance data, the Federal Election Commission has long faced an unusual obstacle: Reports from Senate campaigns flow through the Senate — and the Senate insists on paper filings. To speed the digitization of all that paper, the FEC contracted with Aurotech to develop an automated program that would capture summary data and itemized transactions.

Paper Automation and Digitization

Federal Election Commission

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A tool from Captricity “shreds” documents into small pieces that are uploaded to Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s distributed workforce platform. The mini-tasks are then distributed to employees worldwide, who clarify characters, such as differentiating a 5 from an S. Those human responses are used to train an algorithm that will anticipate which strings of text are likely to appear in certain fields, such as “$5-0-0” versus “S-a-n D-i-e-g-o.”

Previously, FEC workers scanned paper-filed reports, or received scans from the Senate, to post online and sent printouts to a vendor for data entry. An FEC spokesperson said the turnaround was as long as 30 days.

Now the FEC receives data within five days — or less — of submitting the documents. In July, for example, reports were returned to the FEC from the paper conversion system in an average of 31 hours. The tool has an accuracy rate of 93 percent.

Nevertheless, the program’s future is uncertain. In September, President Donald Trump signed an appropriations bill that includes a provision to make the FEC the official point of entry for all Senate filings.

“The legislation [subjects] Senate filers to the electronic filing requirements that have applied to all other committees since Jan. 1, 2000,” an FEC official said. “So the vast majority of the reports that were handled through the paper automation project now will be filed electronically.”

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