Crowdsourcing to Capture Voting Problems
The longest presidential election in history is almost over, and now it’s time to vote. As well all know, sometimes things go wrong at the polling stations. And now the Web 2.0 community is pulling together so we can all document it.
For a long time now, I’ve been writing about the role of crowdsourcing in education. This is the idea of getting lots of people to contribute small bits of information and having it pulled together in a way that we can all learn from it. For example, getting students across the Internet to find out the cost of milk and eggs at their local grocer and then examining the trends to see cost-of-living discrepancies in different parts of the country. I’ve been involved in a number of crowdsourcing projects in the last year as well, such as the Hurricane Information Center, a volunteer effort to aggregate resources and citizen journalism during the 2008 hurricane season. And at NPR, we asked Twitter users to help us fact-check the presidential debates by having them track down primary sources that could be used to refute claims made by the candidates.
So it’s probably appropriate that the climax of the 2008 presidential campaign have a massive crowdsourcing project to go with it. It’s called the Vote Report project, and it seeks to capture as much information as possible about voting problems experienced at polling places around the country. Inspired by a blog post at TechPresident.com just a few weeks ago, Vote Report has come together at an extraordinary pace, with volunteer software developers, designers and bloggers pitching in to create a number of ways for voters to document any problems they experience. Originally conceived of as a Twitter initiative, we’ve expanded it across the technological spectrum to make it possible for even people without Internet access to participate, by submitting voicemails or text messages. On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got custom apps for the iPhone and the Google phone that’ll do the job as well. And we’re working with PBS and YouTube as well; they’ve launched the Video Your Vote project, which lets you submit videos of your voting experiences.
No matter the platform used to submit a vote report, we’re going to pull them all together. You can see a stream of them on the Vote Report homepage, and we’re working on map interfaces as well. The results are available for anyone to see and explore. NPR plans to use it as part of its election coverage, while nonpartisan voting rights groups like Election Protection will follow up any major problems with investigations of their own.
The Vote Report project can be an exciting way to get your students involved in the election process. For those who are old enough to vote, they can submit their own vote reports – or encourage their family members to do so. (Same to you, teachers and administrators.) Even if they can’t vote yet, they can help monitor the results. On election day, for example, have your students drill down into the map and see if any vote reports have been submitted in your community. Have them examine and debate what they find. Are there patterns in the vote reports? Do any of them seem credible? Are some neighborhoods having more problems than others? How do they compare to other parts of the country?
I’ve included the details on how to participate below. It’ll be one of the last chances during this election cycle that you and your students can participate in an authentic online activity that could have real-world impact. And stay tuned – I’ve got one more project for you that’ll I’ll talk about next week. :-) -andy
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
We’ve set up a number of ways you can submit your own vote report.
Texting. Send us a text message at 66937 and begin it with the phrase #votereport. Include your zip code and a very brief description of the problem. You can include other keywords to help pinpoint the problem; see below (link) for more info. This will work on any mobile phone.
Voicemail. Call (567) 258-VOTE (8683) from any phone and record a message.
Twitter: Send a tweet with the phrase #votereport, then include your zip and description. There are other keywords (link) you can include as well.
YouTube: In conjunction with PBS and YouTube’s Video Your Vote project, you can upload a video and report any problems you experience.
If you want to get really geeky about it when you submit a text or tweet, we’ll be able to pick up a number of other tags as well:
- L:[address or city] to drill down to your exact location; ex. “L:1600 Pennsylvania Avenue DC”
- #machine for machine problems; ex., “#machine broken, using prov. ballot”
- #reg for registration troubles; ex., “#reg I wasn’t on the rolls”
- #wait:[minutes] for long lines; ex., “#wait:120 and I’m coming back later”
- #early if you’re voting before November 4th
- #good or #bad to give a quick sense of your overall experience