Cyberspace — A diverse group of bloggers, community organizers, media professionals, technologists, and voting rights activists have issued a report with several last-minute recommendations to reduce voter suppression in the upcoming US Election.  Some of the most significant opportunities involve increasing awareness of resources like the non-partisan Election Protection hotlines at 1-866-OUR-VOTE/1-888-VE-Y-VOTA, engaging the tens of thousands of participants in citizen journalism projects observing the election, and ensuring that voters and activists prepare for a chaotic environment on election day.

“Rather than simply making people feel frustrated and disheartened about the challenge, the Voter Suppression Wiki has allowed average citizens to participate in the protection of their most fundamental democratic right, that of voting,” said Baratunde Thurston, co-founder of the Jack & Jill Politics blog and initial creator of the wiki. “With this workshop, by collaborating across geographic, professional and demographic lines, we have distilled a handful of recommendations that can have a real impact on the voting process.”

A central theme in the recommendations is the need to engage many more people — not just activists — in election protection activities. Tracy Viselli of Reno and Its Discontents, comments “Voters in battleground states are particularly hungry for information about how to protect their votes because they are anticipating problems. The good news is that voters seem to have gotten the message about how important early voting is. Unfortunately, though, many voters still don’t know what they can do if they’re faced with a problem voting at the polls.”Low-tech community-focused and word-of-mouth activities are likely to be the most effective ways of reaching the voters most at risk from voter suppression.  Prominently posting basic election protection information in community hubs — libraries, churches, senior centers, community technology centers, and businesses like coffee shops, bars, and grocery stores — can increase awareness; encouraging voters to take single-page summaries with them to the polls turns each person into a potential resource for other voters in line. This information needs to be simple, focusing on hotline information and what to do if there’s a problem. A prototype version in English (currently being translated into Spanish) suitable for printing or customizing, is available at our resources page at http://www.votersuppression.net/page/Resources

“Somewhat to our surprise, we weren’t able to find existing examples of this,” says Jon Pincus, vice-chair for online visibility of the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference and organizer of the workshop. “Librarians and community activists told us that the detailed per-state information on most voting rights sites is extremely valuable but too overwhelming for this purpose. If we can share information about these one-pagers in time for people to distribute the summary documents at their churches over the weekend and offices on Monday, we’ll reach voters who might not otherwise know what to do if they — or their friends and relatives — run into problems.”

Traditional media such as local and community television, radio, and newspapers can play a big role here as well. “Television stations here were not aware of the high-quality PSAs already available, such as those from New America Media,” says Andrea Price of Public Access of Indianapolis. “Working with several other people on the Voter Suppression Wiki, we’ve been able to get these broadcasts and reach voters in at-risk communities.” The wiki’s Media Room has links to these and other PSAs at http://www.votersuppression.net/page/Media+room

Online activities can play a role as well. Bloggers and online media sites, for example, are encouraged to prominently feature and post about election protection information for their readers (a suggestion that has already been adopted by sites such as Pam’s House Blend and ProgressiveBlue). “Our democracy is both precious and fragile. Helping raise awareness among my readers about how they can protect their right to vote by highlighting election information in space on my blog that I usually use for ads or fundraising is a way that I — or any other blogger — can help,” says Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend, one of the major hubs of the black blogosphere. Election Protection graphics from 866ourvote.org

There are also major opportunities for synergy between various online activism efforts, for example arming participants in citizen journalism projects like Twitter Vote Report and Video the Vote with the one-page summary information, and encouraging them to sign up to help on election day in programs such as CREDO Action’s Immediate Response Network. Harry Waisbren, a Campus Progress representative at the University of Wisconsin, emphasizes that “these new tools provide activists, especially the more tech savvy student activists, with the remarkable ability to discover and prevent voter suppression while it is occurring by receiving directions and help via the web or their cell phones.”

Additional recommendations focus on better sharing of information and resources between local groups, engaging youth activists and students, and preparing for a chaotic environment on election day. For example, the recent E-Deceptive Campaign Practices: Internet Technology & Democracy 2.0 report discussed the possibilty of a “denial of service” attack on election protection resources. Suppose automated robocalls or intentionally misleading reports cause such a load on the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline that voters with problems aren’t able to get through? Ensuring that as many people at the polls have printed information about what to do, for example by providing it in volunteer kits for citizen journalists and election activists, can provide a safety net in the worst-case scenarios.

“One of the most exciting things about this election cycle has been how deeply so people have gotten involved, mixing new technology and traditional approaches.  It shows that every one of us can make a difference,” says Pincus. “The grassroots election protection and citizen journalism movements signal that this authentic civic passion is now connecting to civil rights, starting from the principle of ‘one person one vote’. People from across the country have come together to work on the Voter Suppression Wiki, and we’re just one of hundreds of organizations working in this space. There are still incredible opportunities to have an impact.  If you’re a voter who’s got a little extra time to help out by spreading the word to your friends, family, and colleagues — or an activist, journalist, or blogger — we hope you’ll get involved and help protect voting rights for everybody.”

###

The Voter Suppression Wiki is planning a followup call on Monday, November 3. To stay informed about this and other media and action alerts, please:

Contact Information

Baratunde Thurston, Jack and Jill Politics, jackturnerpolitics {at} gmail {dot} com

Tracy Viselli, Reno and Its Discontents, tracy {at} renofabulousmedia {dot} com

Jon Pincus, Liminal States, jon {at} achangeiscoming {dot} net

For more information

About the Workshop on Last-minute techniques to reduce voter suppression

The Workshop on Last-minute techniques to reduce voter suppression was held from October 25-28, headquartered at the Voter Suppression Wiki, with a goal of “concrete, actionable ideas that can make a difference in the short time between now and election day”. Roughly 30 people participated via phone calls, online discussions, email, IM and chat; most were very new to voting rights activism, with a broad set of backgrounds including blogging, community organizing, technology, and media. The workshop’s recommendations are unsurprisingly influenced by the characteristics of the participants, in particular their geographical diversity and community-based perspectives on election protection. For more about the workshop, see Jon Pincus’ announcement and update on Liminal States.

About the Voter Suppression Wiki

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 Baratunde Thurston’s Announcing The Launch Of The Voter Suppression Wiki – Learn, Report, Act on Jack and Jill Politics; Jon Pincus’ A wiki, Saving democracy? on Liminal States; the other links on our blogging about the wiki page; and our Media Room at http://www.votersuppression.net/page/Media+room

JonPincus

JonPincus

My professional bio's at http://www.cfp2008.org/wiki/index.php/Jon_Pincus