February 4th, 2015

It can be hard to find examples of highly optimized, intensely tested systems using issue tracking hosting, let alone the steps taken by web hosts and clients alike to make these systems work.

Protecting Citizens’ Right to Vote with Timely Online Issue Tracking

Election Protection was created in the wake of the 2000 presidential election to ensure that all American voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.

Through its hotlines: 1-866-OUR-VOTE (administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) and 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota (administered by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund) and 1-888-API-VOTE (administered by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC and APIA Vote), it provides American voters with comprehensive voter information and guidance to make sure their vote is counted. The hotlines are connected to a comprehensive voter protection field program in target states across the country to provide voters in-person assistance at the polls.

The website is at http://www.866ourvote.org/

Election Protection Site

Election Protection Site

The Project: Ensuring Voting Irregularities are Captured and Acted on Quickly

Election Protection assisted voters throughout the 2014 U.S. midterm election but the height of the program was on November 3-4, the day before and Election Day. During a 48-hour window during the election timeframe, its objective was to allow up to 10,000 users to enter data and information into its Our Vote Live application, an interactive environment, aimed to capture election irregularities from the perspective of the voter. Election Protection would then record, track, and resolve any issues relating to their right to vote.

Intense Volume, Geographic Access Controls & on-the-spot Monitoring Requiring Immediate Data Response

Over this 48-hour period, the Election Protection volunteers needed to easily access and input individual voting issues into a tracking system. It was using a highly customized version of Request Tracker. Afterward these issues would need to be analyzed for patterns and irregularities by a different group of over 100 editors.

There were a few key requirements that were absolutely critical to the success of the program:

  • Election Protection needed a solution that would ensure high system performance and total up time for extreme data loads as upwards of 50,000 issue tickets were expected to be logged in a 48-hour time span.
  • The system required segmented access control by geographic region. For instance tickets logged in a certain geographic region would be routed and only be available to those volunteers and editors in that region for follow up.
  • As it was critical for issues to be resolved within a very short window, Election Protection required a solution that would provide real-time reports to best facilitate immediate data response.

The software development team of the Lawyers’ Committee who manages Our Vote Live and the Election Protection program also developed a custom front-end to its application (Request Tracker) that included enhanced mobile access and custom look-ups for address and polling data.

Election Protection's customized RT submission form.

Election Protection’s customized RT submission form.

Determined to Make the Project a Success

Over the course of the program, Election Protection has used several different online databases to track and resolve election issues and every one of those systems crashed at some point during Election Day. In 2010, Election Protection worked with pro bono developers to develop the first iteration of Our Vote Live, which absorbed a large volume of issues that eventually failed under stress.

In 2012, an application based on the Ushahidi platform failed before recording any useful volume of issues and Election Protection was forced to use the 2010 version without guarantee that it would not fail. In 2013, the 2010 version of Our Vote Live finally became inoperable and Election Protection resorted to using Google forms and spreadsheets.

For the 2014 U.S. mid-term election, Election Protection was determined to make the application withstand the traffic and make this initiative a success.

“When we approached Best Practical (creators of Request Tracker) for help, they guided us to GT.net,” said Brian Duggan, Special Projects and Technology Coordinator, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, whose organization supports the Election Protection’s mandate of equal opportunity voting.

“We saw GT.net’s expertise as an additional resource and felt confident that their experience with Request Tracker and application optimization gave them a clear understanding of the specifications we had in mind.”

For the team at GT.net, we saw a way to make a difference and anticipated delivering immediate value. Our in-depth knowledge of Request Tracker enabled us to understand the customizations made by the team at Election Protection and be in a position to resolve any application-level and hosting issues.

Intense Testing, Load Simulation and Application Optimization

Our approach to ensuring a successful online issue tracking system for the November midterms 2014 election included:

  • Aggressive stress testing—Our goal was to ensure fast application response time under real load conditions. By generating heavy loads, we could pinpoint errors and performance-related problems, and then execute the right fix prior to the voting event.
  • Application customization—Key drivers to customer satisfaction are straightforward, easy-to-access features that let you take care of business. Election Protection had developed a robust reporting system that would enable them to identify issues by problem type and area. We customized their Request Tracker instance so that their complex reporting needs worked flawlessly.
  • Application hosting—We understand all the ins and outs of Request Tracker. Election Protection lowered their IT cost because GT.net provides support, maintenance, and upgrades on a 24×7 basis.

Since Our Vote Live was not a public facing site (it was only accessible to volunteers who had been given access), there was no question that an aggressive stress test needed to be our first step. For this reason, we designed a full-on simulation that would allow GT.net to detect, analyze and fix all system fail points. First, we replicated the system tracking login process for all users. Next, we re-created 50,000 trouble tickets. During the actual voting process, more than 100 editors would be responsible for examining voter issues and ensuring that these incidents got resolved would access these tickets.

 The test plan we designed for Election Protection.Each node represents an action performed by a user, and each shape represents a resulting workflow instance.

The test plan we designed for Election Protection.
Each node represents an action performed by a user, and each shape represents a resulting workflow instance.

To simulate large user traffic, 50,000 new tickets were generated and from that, Request Tracker and search workflows were assigned concurrently. Activity was monitored to ensure performance and fast response times.

To simulate large user traffic, 50,000 new tickets were generated and from that, Request Tracker and search workflows were assigned concurrently.
Activity was monitored to ensure performance and fast response times.

Total success relied on us fixing code problems within the customizations made by Election Projection. These problems were discovered through our stress tests. After multiple iterations of adjusting the code and the installation of new custom features, real-time, action-item reports that could be categorized by region and district voting centers were made available. Application testing ensured our Request Tracker customizations performed properly and further stress tests confirmed the issue tracking system could withstand extreme volume.

“I was blown away by the application expertise that GT.net brought to the table. We conducted a joint one-day session on code exchange, exchanging scripts and ideas for improvement. GT.net took the scripts we provided, and tested, tuned and tweaked the code to make it fit our requirements”, said Duggan.

Before Optimization

Election Protection Online Issue Tracking Hosting Before Tuning

1. Request Tracker app performs adequately under small load
2. When active threads increase (ie. more visitors interact with site), response times sky rocket
3. Request Tracker app yields long delays and timeouts at this point

After Optimization

Election Protection Online Issue Tracking Hosting After Tuning

1. Response times undergo a less dramatic increase with more active threads
2. Average response time is now well within acceptable range given the number of active threads

Stronger Reporting, Money Saved, Better Positioning for Long-Term Success

When you have nearly two decades of web application development and a decade of hosting, you can deliver the exceptional services, performance, and affordability that other managed web hosting service providers can’t. Off-the-shelf software and hosting packages just aren’t enough; reliable, highly available online issue tracking hosting relies on an expert team.

“The preparation that GT.net put in is what gave our volunteers a seamless experience,” stated Duggan.

“When GT.net tested 50,000 tickets in just 24 hours, they had already proven their capability in providing an application that our users would be happy with. We will definitely be using their services again from 2014 all the way to the next midterms in 2016.”

Here are the successful results achieved through our efforts with Election Protection:

  • Powerful request tracking system that captured the data of 30,000 issues during the Nov 3-4, 2014 midterm election.
  • Helped address voter problems. Our customized features enabled volunteers to generate reports that helped them identify systemic issues that could potentially interfere with the fair process granted to all eligible voters. Election Protection is going to release a research report in early 2015 that documents the findings from the data it received.
  • Reduced IT Costs. Moving Election Protection to a shared plan made it affordable for them to continue to analyze data and scale their application. After the 48-hour election timeframe, our final step was to remove Election Protection from the high performance hardware that was no longer necessary. By hosting their request tracker application on GT.net public cloud servers with flexibility, it would lower their IT costs and management requirements and still receive superior system performance and GT.net support services. And when the 2016 mid-terms roll around again, they’ll be put back onto the high performance hardware to meet the need demands of the voting electorate.
  • Code improvements to Request Tracker. The code-level customizations that we resolved were incorporated into the main code stream for Request Tracker. The value of working with a performance-hosting provider who understands your application is that we’re able go deeper into your application than other commodity hosting providers. We understand the code and that makes your application faster.

When it comes to custom online issue tracking hosting, it’s clear to see that there is more involved than installing off-the-shelf software onto a generic hosting package. Think we can help with your online issue tracking hosting? Contact us to discuss your solution with an expert.