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.

I thnk one of the keys to doing better is noticing how quickly this was reported by Drexel students.  As Catherine’s article makes clear, it wasn’t just students who were targeted by this; these student reports were early warning about a broader issue.  So one way to shorten the loop between “reported by students” and “in the MSM” for significant incidents could make a big difference here.

Especially since I’m cross-posting this on Firedloglake’s Oxdown Gazette, I’d like to highlight that the progressive blogosphere could have a much bigger role here.  If progressive blogs jump on a story, it’s likely to make it into the MSM-affiliated blogs, and then it’s a much smaller jump into the MSM itself.  As far as I can tell, this story didn’t get attention in the progressive blogosphere until after it showed up in the MSM; more actively searching for, and then actively publicizing, stories like this could be a big help.

Youth bloggers and activists could also have a big role here as well.  A blog which regularly covers incidents of voter suppression by reposting local blog posts and articles in campus newspapers is likely to be a valuable destination for anybody interested in these kinds of stories, and they could partner with groups like Future Majority and to get the word out more broadly.  Another advantage of this approach is that it would highlight patterns in different locations … you don’t think Drexel is the only place where flyers like this are showing up, do you?

Even though it seems like there are opportunities to do a lot better here, I have to admit that I’m not sure just how to make either of those things happen.   I’m not plugged into the progressive blogophere, and have no contacts at all with students and youth activists.  I’ll send this blog post to a few people and hope that somebody will run with some of the ideas … and look for a chance to bring it up on Meet the bloggers next week.  Other suggestions welcome!

Of course, this is just one case study; looking at others may reveal some additional groups (milbloggers, perhaps?) that can play the same role as students do here.

Suggestions welcome on that as well — or any other topics related to how to do better at getting the word out!


PS: From the wiki perspective, one thing to highlight is how the well-documented incident and coverage trail on the wiki is valuable in a couple of ways: an easy way for anybody who wants to write about the story to get to the sources, and as a base for doing these kinds of “lessons learned” analyses afterwards.  The open and collaborative nature of wikis also gave major benefits here, with information coming in relatively quickly from several different people.

* in fact Julian Sanchez’ The future of political dirty tracks and deception online starts with “Make sure your driving record is clear, citizen. See that you’ve paid off your parking tickets…