(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Virtual assistants like Siri and the Google Assistant have gone a long way toward streamlining the mobile experience in recent years, from hands-free calling and texting to streaming content in specific apps on specific devices, all with a few voice commands. With the Echo, Amazon popularized the notion of a "smart speaker," a stationary device in your home that connects you to the company's Alexa AI.

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Like Google and Siri, Alexa can answer various trivia questions and report on the news, in addition to helping you open apps and use them with your voice. Today, Mashable reports that Amazon is going one step further by letting Alexa provide detailed info relating to the US midterm election on November 6. On request, she'll be able to tell you where your local polling places are, the current election results, and information on ballot measures.

According to Mashable, Amazon is attempting to avoid the appearance of any political bias by hiring non-partisan third parties to collect and deliver this election data to Alexa. Specifically, the Associated Press, RealClearPolitics, and Ballotpedia. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post with his personal funds in 2013, a news outlet that has been frequently characterized as "fake news" by President Trump and his followers.)

Of course, you don't strictly need something like an Echo Show or Echo Dot to get access to Alexa and this election info, because she also exists as a free app for iOS and Android. Her election functions aren't live yet, but when Amazon updates Alexa to answer this new set of questions, you won't need to be near an Echo device to get her answers.

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While you're waiting for this update, you can use the app to send texts to other Alexa app users, place calls that can be answered on a phone or Echo device, navigate your Audible and Kindle libraries (if you have those), and connect to certain smart home devices.

You can also use the app to remotely set alarms, timers, and reminders on the Echos that you've set up at home. About the only thing that's missing with the Alexa app is the ability to type a question or instruction; everything you want to communicate to her needs to be done with your voice.

But if you want to get started with Echo devices, you can get the second-generation Dot for $40, and the newest version for $50. According to CNET, the third generation has bigger sound, and you can connect two of them together to get stereo audio.

Takeaways

  • Mashable reports that Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant will soon be able to provide polling locations, election results, and ballot measure info for the 2018 midterm election.
  • If you don't have an Echo device to use Alexa with, she's also available in the form of a free app (Android, iOS).

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.