Balkinization  

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wiki-ing our way to better elections

Heather K. Gerken

A few months ago, I blogged about a new strategy for "popular monitoring of popular elections" – Harvard professor Archon Fung's proposal for harnessing the power of the wiki to monitor election problems by creating "a real-time 'weather map' of voting conditions across the country." The site is now up and running, and I urge Balkinization readers to check it out. By enabling thousands of citizens to rate their voting experiences and identify problems, the site should be extremely helpful for election officials and campaigns trying to prevent modest glitches from developing into genuine problems, while enabling reporters to do a better job of reporting on conditions on the ground. Very few election systems in the U.S. have the capacity to engage in real-time monitoring, but myfairelection.com could well develop into such a system.

In addition to these practical advantages, myfairelection.com may help with the core problem in election reform -- it's tough to get reform passed. One of the main reasons election reform is hard to pass is that election problems are largely invisible to the average voter. Discarded ballots, long lines, machine breakdowns, registration problems -- these all occur routinely during the election process. But voters only become aware of these problems when a race is close enough for the problem to affect the outcome. Given that most races are not competitive, that's a bit like tracking annual rainfall by counting how often lightening strikes. Because voters learn about election administration problems in a haphazard, episodic fashion, politicians have no incentive to pay attention to them unless there's what Rick Hasen calls an "electoral meltdown."

The magic of Fung's idea is that it makes election problems visible even in the absence of an electoral meltdown. If enough people participated so that coverage is thorough and consistent -- and that’s a big “if,” as Fung recognizes -- the site would be a great way to draw people's attention to routine election problems.

Blogs like that Talking Points Memo, DailyKos, and Ben Smith's Politico blog should also take notice of this site. These blogs took advantage of reader reporting to find out what was happening on the ground during the primaries. Myfairelection.com should be able to offer a more systematic take, especially if high traffic blogs like these encourage their own readers to take part.

There will obviously be a number of kinks to work out for this site, as I noticed in my first post. But myfairelection.com is a step in the right direction, and I wish Archon Fung and co-sponsor ABC News the best of luck.

Comments:

How do these sites verify that any claims of voting irregularities are not simply politically motivated misinformation?
 

Bart needs help finding an email address on a website. Hint: Try clicking the "Contact Us" link (it's at the bottom).
 

@Heather, have you looked at twitter for similar dynamics?

@Eric, The SCCS has a valid question worthy of public vetting, no matter how disingenuous his feigned concern. Best course with such: ignore them as fully as possible. Someone better deserving of your efforts will always be along sooner or later.

Peace,

rl
 

Link for Election Protection on Twitter: http://twitter.com/866ourvote

(Proud to say I'll be working the morning and evening shifts for Election Protection here in the San Gabriel Valley.)
 

Right now, we're planning on having ABC news reporters vet the very low ratings. Don't know yet whether human resources will be overwhelmed.

Note that if you're working for election protection, you can submit ratings to the site throughout the day - via blackberry. Registered users may submit up to two ratings per hour.

Via email, submit like this:

Step 1: Create a new email message addressed to rate@myfairelection.com

Step 2: In the body of that email message, enter
 (1) zip-code of polling place
 (2) 1 to 5 asterisks (“***”) for overall rating
 (3) any comments you might have [one line only!]

And send the message! You will receive an email message that verifies receipt of your rating.
 

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