Using Twitter to Solve Problems on Election Day
October 19th, 2008

(via Allison Fine, with a link below)

Twitter is the mirco-blogging software that allows you to share snippets of information in 140 characters or less. In the 2 years the service has taken off including being used by a CNN reporter to ask questions on a daily basis and show the answers on his show.

Many uses have been found for the software and via … we came across another smart use for this election day. Nancy Scola and Allison Fine have paired up and are spreading the word about information imbalances and correct misconceptions that result in voter suppression. What they’ve suggested is a remarkable effort:

* Empowering Self-Organized Volunteers: Much of Twitter’s power comes from its simplicity. It’s inherently flexible. As problems pop up, as they do every election, volunteers and activists can organize on the fly to quickly get information out. A few weeks ago, college kids in Virginia’s Montgomery Country were startled to find a misleading notice telling them that voting in that state might jeopardize their student loans and scholarships. Chaos ensued. A second ominous notice from the county made things worse. Any enterprising young politico could have jumped into Twitter, created a @collegevoters account, and become the instant information hub.

* Sharing Patterns: As the saying goes, once is a fluke. Twice might be a coincidence. But three times is a pattern. Joe Voter might be mildly irked when his ballot is rejected for not matching up with the newly-mandated statewide voter databases. But it goes from irked to real problem when it’s happening to his neighbors in nearby precincts and counties. In Wisconsin recently, database troubles prevented election judges from voting during a test run. The state later suspended use of the database, but other states won’t find out there’s trouble until Election Day. Savvy volunteers watching the polls on election could tag Twitter posts with a pre-determined hashtag — #NJHAVAmatch, for example. Tracking that feed is an easy way to track the pattern of missteps and malfunctions.

* Serving as Mobile Legal Aide: On election day, questions arise. Should the local Republican/Democratic party bigwig really be sharing a cup of coffee and a donut with the chief election judge? How far back from the polls can we insist campaign pamphleteers stay? They’re asking anyone with a Hispanic last name for ID — is that okay? This is the time to call in the lawyers! Twitter can either work as a private chat line or a broadcast service. A volunteer with a sensitive inquiry about, say, a particular person’s case could “direct message” @DNClegal to ask for guidance. Someone wanting her question to @RNClegal to be heard (along with its answer) by anyone in his Twitter can simply make it public.

* Smart Routing Around Resource Gaps: When you wanted to know how long the lines were at New York City Apple stories during the release of new iPhone 3G, the Apple website, the place to go wasn’t the local TV new or CNN or even blogs — it was Twitter. In 2004, the uneven distribution of voting equipment that hampered voting in so many precincts in Ohio and elsewhere was compounded by the fact that voters tend to swarm, showing up at the polls at the same time. Ohio has started early voting this time around, but the lines are still sometimes long. On election day, Twitter can help monitor the wait times at polling places — information that clever local news outlets would well serve their audiences by then broadcasting out.

* Guiding the Watchdogs: Elections seem to run more smoothly when the eyes of the press are watching. During the recent protests around the Republican Convention in St. Paul, Twitter became a dispatch hub for activists, journalists, and support staff. In the midst of the chaos, news crews were having a tough time figuring out where to direct their attention. After Nathan Oyler, a.k.a. notq on Twitter, tweeted that medics gathered on a certain street corner were fearing arrest, News Hour with Jim Lehrer, one of the most respected shows in TV journalism, responded: “We’re sending someone now,” and then double-checked the address — all via Twitter.

You can see where they are going with this effort and it’s amazing. So on election day if you want to help stop voter suppression and report problems on election day, spend some time or the day (if you can), especially during the evening as polls are closing, reporting on what’s happening at your precinct via Twitter. Make it trackable by using a hashtag, with the following information, [state] + [first four letters of the county] + [precinct, if known] on Twitter.

If you need some help learning more about Twitter prior to election day, watch this video Twitter In Plain English.

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