How to Fight Back When Information is Weaponized for Voter Suppression

11 mins read

Information warfare restricts timely access to the information Americans need to vote.

Lack of information on how, when and where to vote disenfranchises many Americans from their right to vote. Sometime it is accidental. Often it is intentional. How can these info warfare tactics be counteracted so more people can vote fairly?

Voter suppression tactics from the ‘dark side

Bury voting-related information so its hard to find

“Finding a Georgia absentee ballot application is not easy, but upgrades are planned. Absentee ballot application links are buried on the Secretary of State’s website.” – 11 Alive

Make information hard to access. Put it only online to make it easier for voters with computers and harder for the elderly and disabled who aren’t tech savvy or don’t have internet access

And while some may argue that the USPS is becoming more obsolete as an increasing number of services are becoming digitalized, there’s still a large chunk of people who rely on mail because they have poor (or no) internet service. (The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 14.5 million people in rural areas lack access to broadband.) – VOX

Do not translate documents making it harder for non-English speaking voters

“The voting rights organization Demos has filed a lawsuit alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act because of Alachua County’s failure to provide ballots and other election materials in Spanish.” – Florida Politics

Make last minute changes to support your candidate and hurt challengers

“Florida Bar investigating after Jacksonville attorney, Michael Kalil becomes judge without an election. The last-minute changes left less than two hours for other potential candidates to join the race and eventually led to Kalil winning a judge’s seat with no opposition and no election.” – News4Jax

Change polling locations at short notice

“County election officials announced the temporary polling locations in January ahead of the South Carolina Democratic primary today.” – Greenville News

Make voting instructions confusing

“A mailer from the D.C. Board of Elections was supposed to help registered voters confirm that their address was correct. Instead, it has prompted confusion over how exactly voters can notify the board that their address has changed or that a person listed at their address no longer lives there.” – NPR

Provide incorrect voting information

“For the second time in as many weeks, election officials in Maricopa County, Arizona are in hot water for providing Hispanic voters with false information about when election day is.” – The Young Turk

Fighting info warfare used to suppress voters

Fight the weaponizing of voting information. Make it easier for voters to get information in a timely and convenient manner, in their preferred language by phone or computer.

Tips from the Force to make it easier for more people to vote fairly.

Streamline the collection and sharing of voting related information

Use volunteers to crowdsource the collection of voting-related information from different websites and sources. This information is first screened for quality and then stored in a central database from where maps, chatbots and other apps can access it. This approach ensures that data collection effort isn’t duplicated and new updates are quickly reflected in all means of communication. This approach was used in “See Something, Say Something“, a free app that collected and highlighted voting related problems during the 2018 Midterm elections. This app was designed with Survey 123 and ArcGIS Online.

Build a central, sharable database – rather than small, private information silos

It’s hard for voters to sift through multiple websites to find the information they need. Aggregate the data into a central source which imports data from different sources and makes it accessible from one spot. The Poll Worker app collects information from different sources and provides it through a free mobile app. Any changes in the websites that it gets info from is automatically refreshed in the mobile app too. It was designed with the free Glide Apps.

Make the information easy to find – through different devices (laptops, tablets, phones)

Many voters don’t have a computer nor internet access. Provide voting information they need in the form that works best for them. A web based map, a text based hotline they can access from their phone. The information provided remains the same but just delivered so as to reach more people. ACN needed to provide information on the closest clinic. This solution includes provides information three ways: an interactive map of clinics built with ArcGIS Online, an SMS chatbot built with Twilio and a mobile app built with Glide App.

Provide information in the form that’s best for the recipient. Voice, text or Facebook Messenger.

The elderly, disabled and less educated often prefer to get information verbally. Many may not have access to a computer or lack internet access. Make it easy for them to get the information they need through voice chatbots. These small programs respond to calls to a hotline, ask a few questions, look up the answer and say the answer. This is similar to how Siri and Alexa work, except you get to define the questions to ask and the answers to provide. Chatbots are affordable and can be deployed within a few days. This voter chatbot was designed with Twilio.

Provide information in multiple languages

Provide information in the preferred language of the voter, so no-one is left out. It isn’t feasible to translate every official form, but help guides and instructions can be created in different languages. New software makes it easy to translate and caption video instructions into thirty different languages. This approach is affordable and translations can be made within a few hours

Plan for the unexpected. Collect information quickly and send alerts when bad things happen.

Collecting information on fast moving events is hard. Especially when they are spread across the country as on election day. Crowdsourcing offers a proven solution to rapidly collect, screen and share information with the public on poll closures, long lines, and other obstacles to voting. The approach is similar to WAZE, the mobile app by which drivers share information on traffic jams to alert other drivers. Everyone benefits when more people share information for the public good. Software such as Survey123 is ideal for rapidly collecting and sharing the information collected.

Make voting-related information easy to understand

Maps are often the easiest way to convey information in a useful form. People can understand them intuitively, regardless of their language. Smart maps can combine information such as district, county and state boundaries. To this other data layers such as polling centers, early voting locations and drop boxes can be added. Maps can be easily created, revised and shared as an online map. This map of information for a special election in Georgia was created with ArcGIS Online.

Pro-actively notify voters about the information they need to vote

Voters are busy with little time to research the information they need to vote and find their polling locations. Make it easy for them by pro-actively the information they need to vote by text messages. Reclaim Our Vote volunteers text voters their polling locations using Text Per Cent software which costs 1 cent/text.
Volunteers text reminders to Virginia low propensity voters to vote along with individualized details such as:
– What form of Voter ID is acceptable in Virginia?
– Where is the polling location in their precinct?
– Where is curbside voting offered?
– When are the polling locations open?
Text Per Cent automatically finds polling locations based on the voter’s address and the nearby polling locations in their county. Volunteers text this information to voters.

TakeAway: Fight fire with fire. Use technology to ensure all voters get the information they need to vote.

Michelle Obama said “When they go low, we go high”. It’s still a good idea to know how they might go low, and develop strategies to fight voter suppression.

Deepak Puri

Image Credits: Andrew Martin on PixabayWikiMedia and Erika Wittlieb.

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

Our focus is on long term, sustainable and affordable solutions. An approach that is longer than an election cycle, and isn’t purely dependant on volunteers, can enable more qualified candidates to run for office and for more issue groups to bring about positive social change.

Democracy Labs is a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund.

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