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Election protection: Techville and Reality City

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Welcome to those who have gotten here via my appearance on Meet the Bloggers! The Voter Suppression Wiki is a non-partisan hub of information and action around efforts to suppress votes in the 2008 U.S. elections. For more information, please see our strategy and talking points, Baratunde Thurston’s launch post on Jack and Jill Politics, and my series of posts on Liminal States (most of which are cross-posted on Pam’s House Blend and Oxdown Gazette).  If you’d like to get involved, please introduce yourself, check the help wanted, roll up your sleeves, and jump in!

If you’re hear to watch me, Brad Friedman and James Rucker on Meet the Bloggers, the video is at the end of the post.

If you’d like to help fight voter suppression, please get involved!

One of the things we’ve talked a lot about with the Voter Suppression Wiki is the importance of looking at bridging the gap from the online to the offline community.  A good way of understanding this is by imagining two congressional districts: Techville and Reality City.

Techville is relatively affluent, mostly-white, and as the name implies, a high-tech hotbed.  “Everybody” uses Twitter, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, and a whole bunch of cool web 2.0 thingies I’ve never heard of — as my brother Gregory K would say, they’re pretty well connected.  Their local election board is well-funded and very proactive; they’ve got a great training program for election-day pollworkers, and many local high-tech companies encourage their employees to take the day off to volunteer.

Reality City, by contrast, is poorer, with a lot of minorities and Spanish speakers, and several large retirement communities.  It’s on the “wrong side of the digital divide”, so while there are some highly-wired residents  (especially students), computer usage in general is low.  Just like everywhere else in America, people are fired up about the election, and so registration has surged.  Unfortunately, there’s no money, so there aren’t enough voting machines to go around; and they haven’t been able to hire enough staff to validate all the registrations or find enough volunteers for election day.

Voter suppression is almost certainly likely to be more of a problem in Reality City than Techville; and so from an election protection perspective, that’s where we’d like to focus our efforts.  In practice, though, an online focus risks doing exactly the opposite.

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Friday on Meet the Bloggers: James Rucker, Brad Friedman, and me

When it comes to election protection and voter suppression, there’s perhaps no one more knowledgeable than Color of Change’s James Rucker.  That’s why Rucker will be our special guest on Meet the Bloggers this Friday at 1pm Et/10am PT, as we discuss these critical issues.

Joining Rucker will be Jon Pincus (Liminal States) and Brad Friedman (The Brad Blog).  Both have written extensively about this topic, and they will chat with show host Cenk Uygur about early reports of voter suppression and fraud, as well as campaigns to combat this problem.

Meet the Bloggers

Brad focuses on the political context of voter suppression, in 2008 and over the last eight years.  I delve into a couple of incidents (the deceptive Philadelphia flyers, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s ad with misleading information for student voters), and spend a lot of time encouraging people to take action.

voter suppression wiki logo

Speaking of which, from our “what you can do” action plan page, here’s three things that everybody can do today:

  1. check your registration and know your rights. Voters Unite has a state-by-state list of how to check that you’re registered, or use Vote For Change’s online form. Election Protection’s Elections 101 page is a good place to go to start learning more about your rights.
  2. spread the word. Make sure our friends and family have double-checked their registration and know where they’re voting.  If you’re a blogger or journalist, write about voter suppression and the grassroots election protection movement — and let your readers know what they can do about it.
  3. get involved. Introduce yourself and help out with the Voter Suppression Wiki — or join in one of the many other great projects working to bring “one person one vote” closer to reality

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Voter Suppression Wiki: Introductions, Help Wanted, and Strategy

Cross-posted on Oxdown Gazette and Pam’s House Blend

voter suppression wiki logoThe Voter Suppression Wiki is a non-partisan hub of information and action around efforts to suppress votes in the 2008 U.S. elections. For more information, please see our strategy and talking points, Baratunde Thurston’s launch post on Jack and Jill Politics, and my series of posts on Liminal States.  If you’d like to get involved, please introduce yourself, check the help wanted, roll up your sleeves, and jump in!

With only three weeks to go until Election Day on November 4, it’s time for the Voter Suppression Wiki to start shifting to action mode.  Our challenges at this point are pretty typical of nascent activism groups: building a large enough community and getting enough visibility to have an impact, linking up with partners and allies, getting good communications channels in place, and learning to work together effectively.

We’re doing pretty well on all of these fronts, actually: with over 100 people involved we’ve got the core of a community; we’re expecting more press attention later this week; and we’ve had initial discussions with allies like SourceWatch and their Election Protection Wiki, Twitter Vote Report‘s grassroots election-monitoring plan, and CREDO action’s SMS-based Immediate Response Network.  There’s also been a lot of good discussion on the wiki in threads like How can we do better at getting the word out? Still, tempus fugit; so now’s a good time to start moving things forward more quickly.

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Voter suppression: how to do better at getting the word out?

voter suppression wiki logoOne area that we think the Voter Suppression Wiki can potentially add a lot of value is getting the word out more rapidly: about important updates like polling location changes or extended polling times, and to alert the community about deceptive campaign practices.  Today, it can often take over a week for information to make it out broadly once its discovered.  How can we do better?

The deceptive flyers in Philadelphia are an interesting case study.  Their warning that “you’ll be arrested if you try to vote with unpaid traffic fines our outstanding warrants” is a classic,* and Drexel students reported it on September 22.  It was posted to the wiki after Tom Namako’s City Paper article Voter Intimidation Tactics are Afoot at Drexel, on September 24, and the 1-866-OUR-VOTE folks issued an alert Watching out for deceptive campaign practices in Pennsylvania on September 26.  Even so, it was almost another week before Catherine Lucy’s Vote Scam Flyers Target Black Neighborhoods appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News for the first appearance in the mainstream media (MSM) on October 2.

The good news is that word is getting out — the Daily News article was followed by a flurry of attention.  Suppose, though, that the time had been much more compressed … for example, deceptive flyers being posted the weekend before the election.  In that case, the reaction will need to be a lot faster.

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Voter suppression wiki: what to discuss on Meet the Bloggers?

voter suppression wiki logoI’m currently scheduled to be on a Meet the Bloggers‘ discussion of voting rights on October 17, along with Brad Friedman of THE BRAD BLOG and presumably at least one other guest. It’s a great opportunity to get the word out about the Voter Suppression Wiki, and in particular to enlist other bloggers in helping us. What to discuss in my blog post (or posts) before the show?  What to concentrate on during the 30 precious minutes of airtime?  Where to focus energy for follow discussions?

I set up a page on the wiki to sketch my thinking — and even more importantly, to get others ideas. Feedback welcome, there or here!

Brad’s a voting rights expert, and so if I get a chance I’d rather focus on the activism and social computing aspects of our campaign. This ties in both with my recent experiences and my multi-year research agenda of computer science as a social science — and I think will be interesting in general for the Meet the Bloggers audience, because it’s not something I’ve seen discussed there before.

Here are some very quick initial thoughts on the topics I could potentially cover:

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TWO wikis, saving democracy?

voter suppression wiki logo

Within an hour after the announcement of the Voter Protection Wiki, we were tipped off that there’s another voting rights wiki in town, and it’s a doozy.  And sure enough, today SourceWatch is announcing the Election Protection wiki.* From their announcement:

Recent presidential elections were marred by controversies and disputes. Scores of individuals and organizations have been working to investigate and reform US elections, issuing reports and information on topics such as electronic voting machines, voter suppression campaigns and student voting rights. However, this information is spread across many different websites, news sources and databases. The Election Protection Wiki seeks to provide a single web portal for accessing this disparate information. Its information is non-partisan and factual; anyone of any political persuasion will be able to both read from and write to the wiki to help us all protect every American’s right to vote.

SourceWatch is best known for Congresspedia and their “Superdelegate Transparency Project”; they’ve got experience, a community, paid staff, and excellent connections with politicians and non-profits in DC and all over the country.  It’s a great thing for American democracy.

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A wiki, saving democracy?

But what about the votes that don’t count? What about the systematic attempts to erect barriers between voters and the ballot box? What about voter suppression?

In order to educate, document and mobilize action, I’m excited to introduce the Voter Suppression Wiki.

— Baratunde Thurston, Announcing The Launch Of The Voter Suppression Wiki – Learn, Report, Act on Jack and Jill Politics

In May, I was on a panel on e-Deceptive campaign practices at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference, and all the panelists agreed that with partisan feelings high and the polls likely to be close, this election would be particularly nasty from a voting rights perspective. Sure enough, potential issues are already cropping up: absentee ballot applications sent to voters with the wrong return addresses, a lawsuit in Wisconsin likely to cause incredibly-long lines at the polls, another suit in Ohio attempting to prevent people from voting when they register, misleading warnings from county officials in Virginia with the apparent purpose of discouraging college students from registering, and apparent plans to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters in Michigan that’s sparked a lawsuit from the Obama campaign.   And it’s only September!

Many forms of voter suppression* revolve around voter registration: voter caging and other ways of purging legitimate voters from databases, discouraging or preventing people from registering.  Others focus on preventing registered voters from actually voting: spreading false information about polling places, not providing enough ballots, intimidating rumors such as “you’ll be arrested if you have any outstanding parking tickets,” and poll workers not respecting voters’ rights.

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Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2008: showtime!

cfp logoCFP2008 traditionally starts off with a day of tutorials.

I was on a panel organized by Lillie Coney of EPIC on E-Deceptive Campaign Practices: “Elections 2.0″, which was extremely interesting; I discussed examples of, and responses to, e-deception based on my activism experiences this election season, much of which I’ve blogged about here already.

Tova Wang of Common Cause moderated, and the other panelists included John Phillips of Aristotle, Jenigh J. Garrett of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Ruchi Bhorwmik of Senator Barack Obama’s office, talking about the legislation he’s introduced banning certain deceptive campaign practices relating to knowingly and intentionally spreading false information about voting times and locations. The audience was extremely involved — and knowledgable — and the conversations during the breaks were great as well. Aldon Hynes already has an interesting followup post in Project VoteProtector on his blog Orient House.

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Supreme Court Legalizes Voter Suppression

The headline’s from Project Vote’s post on OpenLeft, which also has a great quote from their board member Donna Massey:

The real purpose of strict photo voter ID rules is to make it more difficult for some Americans to vote. It’s the voters who are less likely to vote who are also less likely to have government issued ID, such as young people, the poor, elderly, and Americans of color. A University of Washington study, for example, found that in Indiana 22 percent of African-American voters lack proper identification compared to 16 percent of white voters. Twenty-one percent of voters earning less than $40,000 a year lack the necessary ID compared to just 13 percent of those earning more than $40,000. All Americans have a right to vote, even if they don’t have a photo ID.

SCOTUSblog has the details on the 6-3 decision.

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“Election falsification” and other voting issues in Ohio (updated)

Update, March 27: The Columbus Dispatch reports statewide officials say prosecution for Limbaugh is very unlikely: “lying through your teeth and being stupid isn’t a crime.” Ari Melber’s Limbaugh’s Lying Voters Under Investigation on The Nation’s Campaign Matters blog has a lot more.

Kim Zetter’s The Mysterious Case of Ohio’s Voting Machines, on Wired’s THREAT LEVEL, has context for Ohio in general. From earlier in the month, Lingering questions in Ohio and Uncounted delegates & Ohio’s delegate math on Dan Tokaji’s excellent Equal Votes Blog cover the equally-important non-Limbaugh issues.

(originally posted March 7)

streets blocked outside the polling location

Art House Queen’s picture of the streets blocked surrounding the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections symbolizes voter disenfranchisement across the state. They ran out of ballots in Sandusky County and Franklin County; voting machines broke down in Montgomery County and no doubt elsewhere; a dozen computer memory cards spent the night in the back of a sherriff’s van in Lucas County before being counted; in Obama stronghold Cuyahoga County, voter privacy was compromised and huge numbers of provisional ballots still haven’t been counted.

The Secretary of State is “very pleased”, citing it as improvement over 2004 despite horrible weather; and very importantly, the move to paper ballots in Cuyahoga County went well, and the state’s pressuring Diebold to refund the $21 million for the decertified voting machines. Democracy in America, 2008. Nothing to see here, move along, move along …

Except …

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Voting rights victories in LA County and Texas!

Update, March 6: democracy largely (albeit imperfectly) prevailed in the LA County mess; 47,153 “double bubble” votes were counted in Los Angeles County. What about Ohio? We shall see …

Julia Rosen’s Victory post yesterday on Courage Campaign’s blog announced Dean Logan’s agreement to count every possible LA County decline-to-state ballot, and followup mail from Rick Jacobs today reiterates: we won!

After weeks of bad news, here’s the good news: Tens of thousands of “Decline-to-State” (DTS) voters — who intended to cast a ballot for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton on Super Tuesday — will now have their “double bubble” votes counted by the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters.

And it’s because of you.

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What democracy looks like in the US, February 2008

Update, March 6: democracy largely (albeit imperfectly) prevailed in the LA County mess; 47,153 “double bubble” votes were counted in Los Angeles County. What about Ohio? We shall see …

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