Category Archives: Election Day

Voter-gauged election fairness

(photo by danostuporstar)

(photo by danostuporstar)

My colleague Archon Fung has a new web-based project (in conjunction with ABC News) called My Fair Election to enable voters to rate how fair their voting experience was.

I’ve blogged before about how citizens could be on the front-lines in monitoring global warming or bird patterns or even improving GPS systems.  (See related post here.)  Now citizens can be at the forefront of helping to monitor our election process.

The My Fair Election website says “Rate your polling place and your experience of voting here. Was it easy to vote? Were there long lines, closed polling places, or broken machines? Your rating and those of thousands of other voters will produce a real-time map of voting conditions throughout the country on November 4, 2008. Sign up now, and you will receive an email message with instructions for submitting your own rating after you vote.”

My Fair Election enables American citizens or journalists or politicians to see where there are concentrations of voting unfairness or irregularity and enables high level of citizen-observed unfairness in the election process to trigger investigations into asserted irregularities.  One could also see the day after the election from the “Weather Map of Election Fairness” we collectively create whether concentrations of voting unfairness occurred in certain states or traditionally Blue vs. Red areas.

So don’t only vote on November 4, but sign up at My Fair Election and get your friends (in lots of different places) to sign up as well.  Together we can all hold the voting system accountable and we can add a layer of transparency to our voting process.

Note: other parallel efforts (although not enabling one to map the infractions) are a service which Twitter offered called Vote Report and Video Your Vote (a YouTube) effort enabling voters to upload a video of their voting experience.

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Is early or weekend voting desirable?

Is this how YOU get to the polls? (photo by glesgagirl59)

Is this how YOU get to the polls? (photo by glesgagirl59)

An Op-ed in the NYT “Everybody’s Voting for the Weekend” (Steve Israel/Norman Ornstein, 10/24/08) makes clear that the fact that we vote on Tuesdays is a historical anomaly, born of the days when we had to vote at the county seat and it took a day to travel in both directions.  As the title suggests, Israel/Ornstein favor weekend voting.

A thought piece in the Washington Post by Marc Fisher makes clear that there is more at stake than simply trying to increase voter turnout.  He deplores early voting laws that spread the vote out over weeks.  Citing my colleague Bob Putnam, Fisher notes that voting is a collective act, a chance to affirm one’s commitment in front of one’s neighbors:

Voting is a proud expression of who we are and of our belief in our system and our future. It is an individual act but a communal experience. It is a statement we make about ourselves, to ourselves, but also to each other. It is how we say, “I am part of something larger, and my voice matters, and so does yours.” When we chip away at that communal experience, we diminish democracy.”

Voting alone could be worse than bowling alone,” says Dennis Thompson, a political philosopher at Harvard University, referring to Robert Putnam’s book arguing that as Americans have withdrawn from community and civic activities, our sense of trust and political engagement has declined. Early voting, Thompson says, “divides people, and in elections, we’re all supposed to be equal. The meaning of an election is that all of us come together to make decisions based on our common experience.” Take away the chance to vote together and you take away some of that meaning.

And while in Obama’s case, it looks like early voting favors disaffected African-American voters drawn to the polls for the first time in decades, who might otherwise not vote amidst the long lines and delays on Election Day or have their right to vote questioned, history shows otherwise.

“Early voting is a strongly biased opportunity,” Thompson argues. “Some people have more information than others.” In local and state races, voters might not hear much about candidates until the final week. That’s when less well-funded candidates might make their big push, and it’s when newspapers and other media produce voter guides.

More disturbing, early voters tend to be “older, better educated and more cognitively engaged in the campaign and in politics,” Gronke says.

“Early voting encourages a campaign strategy that divides the electorate and conceives of early voters as a different group,” Thompson says. Last week, Obama spent a big chunk of time in Florida just as early voting began there….

Either way, early voting shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The real debate should be about whether convenience is more important than the unique power of Election Day to pull us out of our atomized lives and put us in one room with our neighbors so that we see, if only briefly, just what we are voting about.

It may be that weekend voting is the best compromise: enabling more people to vote, easing the hunt for poll workers (whose average age is now usually in their 70s or 80s), delaying early voting until more of the electorate is well informed, and increasing the communal aspect of voting, even if spread out over two days.

See Marc Fisher’s “In Early Voting Trend, Democracy is the Biggest Loser” (Washington Post, 10/24/08).