December 14, 2008

Observers: Watching and Documenting the Vote

The November 4th election was under a national microscope. That election was the most "watched" election in our nation's history. The media, nonpartisan observation teams, civil rights lawyers, partisans, foreign poll watchers and hordes of voter activists all joined together to monitor polling place operations on Election Day. There were also individuals and groups monitoring the various election processes that took place in the weeks leading up to the election as well as those who watched early voting locations for trouble.

If a voter experienced difficulties at the polls, their issue could be reported to a large number of outlets. Many organizations had problem reporting websites as did the media, especially newspapers and TV. Call-in lines staffed by volunteers posted polling-place incidents as they occurred. Even Twitter and other "new media channels" got in on the action as voters posted their Election Day experiences - good and bad.

Election Protection, perhaps the largest and best organized of the nonpartisan observer groups, had more than 10,000 volunteers at polling sites and call centers. According to the final tallies, Election Protection logged more than 80,000 calls on Election Day and 200,000 during the entire election cycle.

The most common problems reported were related to voter registration - voters arrived at the polls thinking they were registered only to find that they were not. Another prevalent issue was deceptive practices - intentionally putting out misinformation about polling locations, rules, impending challenges, etc. - were reported in more than a dozen states.

In addition to all the above, there were 800 Department of Justice staff in the field in 23 states. Prominent locations included Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Dallas, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, King County Washington and Orleans Parish, Louisiana.

Information on the operation of polls also came from the inside. Professors, activists, bloggers and members of the media signed up to be poll workers. They got an "insider's view" of elections which provided a unique opportunity for them to document their election experiences on blogs and websites.

Also keeping tabs on things were an "army of lawyers" who were ready to go into court should any legal action be necessary. The New York Times estimated that there were 5,000 lawyers for Obama in Florida alone. Republicans did not offer any estimates but noted, "enough to respond to any contingency...we will be engaged at every level."

There is no doubt that this election was the most watched and most documented in U.S. history. Hopefully, all of this information on the vote and the experiences of voters will be put to good use by legislators, election officials and concerned citizens to improve the election system so that it better serves voters when we conduct the next presidential election four years from now.

No comments: