Monday, July 07, 2008
Popular Monitoring of Popular Elections
Heather K. Gerken
Archon Fung, one of the most interesting thinkers at Harvard's Kennedy School, has just come up with an intriguing idea for monitoring elections: a teched-up, wiki-based system for reporting problems on election day. It's modeled on the award-winning British site, fixmystreet.com, where people report maintenance problems (graffiti, potholes, broken street lights), locating the problem on a map and often attaching photographs to the entry. The site is interactive; it reports when a problem has been fixed and maps where current problems are so that you can figure out how things are working in your neighborhood. As you'll see from his introductory site, Fung envisions a much bigger version of this idea -- a national "weather map of election conditions" that would show you where the biggest problems are occurring based on real-time entries by trained election monitors and everyday citizens. You could then drill down into the map, figuring out exactly where problems were occurring in your state, city . . . even your polling place. The visuals would look something like this map of gas prices.
Just look for the problems being in minority communities as part of voter intimidation and suppression. You heard it first here.
Hastily blocklettered felt marker sign at polling place November 2008: "Voters not allowed to use camera equipped cellphones inside poll".
Then there was the picturesquely named BrooksBros Rebellion, in FL2000.
During one primary in a state which I shall leave unidentifed a freelance blogger documented uncertified chain of custody firmware printed circuit cards swapped into jammed voting machines to restore operationality.
In 2004 there was a large metropolis which sent firmware and vote machine on "sleepover" home with poll workers a day or two early, without any tamperproofing guarantee.
Then we have the stringent new laws in Indiana, the state that banned a community of elderly monasts from voting because of missing state certified identification.
I wonder where my birth certificate might be on election day, and whether the provisional ballot, if a voter receives such a ballot, actually is counted before the election is certified.
I think Fung has a good muse, but elections tend to elicit some primal urges. I like to reflect on the Ukraine outcome, people in the plaza, a recount corroborating a somewhat less grand victory for an incumbent in the orange Revolt, more camping out, the challenger forming the new government.
Though, as usual, BenD managed to frame the entirety of the problem in one direct clause.
I will have to read again what professor Hasen has elaborated as meltdown. Though, this year, if reports are accurate, registration increases will compensate for minor inaccuracies or unfairnesses.
This is a good enough idea that it's worth launching now. Right now the site has an explanatory video and a concept paper...viz., Harvard professors are no good at marketing or web development.
If this site doesn't get up and running, with some decent TV spots and a solid print-media strategy, it will fail...get the good professor some marketing advice right now!
Unfortunately, voting problems are typically most severe in areas where Wiki skills are low. The 800 number worked better, as long as people saw or heard the ads for it, although having looked through EIRS I can say that reports are by nature subjective and it's often hard to identify the general problem at work. Best was having trained volunteers at polling stations to talk to voters and poll workers.
But the biggest problem we found was not logistical or technological but financial. It's always difficult to get real interest in procedural issues, and it's longer and longer since Florida ...
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