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Federal law prohibits voter intimidation. How can voters report issues preventing them from voting or other election related irregularities in time to do something about it?

Voter Intimidation

Georgetown Law “The U.S. Department of Justice has explained that voter intimidation is conduct that is intended to compel prospective voters to vote against their preferences, or to not vote at all, through activity that is reasonably calculated to instill fear. Some actions that ordinarily would be legal may be unlawful if they are intended to intimidate voters. Here are some examples of conduct near polling sites that likely would constitute illegal voter intimidation.“

Violent behavior inside or outside the polling site 
Verbal threats of violence 
Confronting voters while wearing military-style
Spreading false information about voter official-looking uniforms fraud or voting requirements
Brandishing firearms or the intimidating display of firearms
Aggressively approaching voters’ vehicles or writing down voters’ license plate numbers
Disrupting voting lines or blocking the entrance to the polling place
Harassing voters, aggressively questioning them about their qualifications to vote
Following voters to, from, or within the polling place

Incidents of voter suppression and intimidation have to be highlighted quickly. How can this be done with so much activity in such a short period of time with disinformation filling the airwaves? A citizen reporting system that can quickly distill information and share it with groups best equipped to deal with that incident is needed.

Potholes and voting

Waze is a popular app with over a 100 million users. Drivers use it to share details of traffic jams, potholes and other things that they see. This information is collected and organized to alert other drivers in the vicinity so they can avoid problems. It’s impressive software which can handle very, very large amounts of data from multiple source to make sure traffic flows smoothly and drivers save time. But what does this have to with voting?

Elections and voting have much in common with traffic. There are a large number of people in different locations trying to vote in a short period of time and facing a variety of situations from long lines, broken voting machines and some even face intimidation. How can the technical approach that Waze uses to streamline traffic also be applied to improve voting and alert the public, journalists and voting rights groups of obstacles and intimidation.

Waze uses crowdsourcing to help drivers share information about traffic jams and potholes with other drivers so they can avoid obstacles.

The need for speed

Traditional approaches of handling problems by a phone calls aren’t ideal to handle a very large number of calls in a short period of time. Waze would ;t be as popular if drivers had to call to report problems and then get a phone call back. Digital solutions can handle thousands of simultaneous requests and enable volunteers to screen, prioritize and direct them to the closest responder.

Information is more valuable when there is still time to use it to achieve a better outcome. Waze informs drivers about upcoming traffic jams before they are stuck in it. Voting issues demand a rapid response so obstacles can be quickly addressed.

What is the best way to deal with that issue? Who should be notified? Here are some considerations:
What response needed? Public attention? Social media influence? Press coverage? Legal action?
Closest resource? Where is the closest person or official to deal with the issue?
Form of sharing? Is information best delivered online? An email or a text to the official or journalist?
How much detail should be shared? How can individuals privacy be protected but still provide the responder enough information?

System design

Experts know that it is better to use existing, proven technology to design a mission critical system, rather than trying to write new code. This approach is faster, cheaper and involves less risks.

DemLabs chose ArcGIS Survey123 for See Something, Say Something. We wanted a system that was tested, secure and could handle a very large volume of reports. Reports can be submitted from smart devices, laptops, or desktops. Results are displayed as maps, dashboards and alerts using ArcGIS. This software is the engine behind the John Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard that collects details on infections and deaths from hospitals around the world to build this vital dashboard.

We needed to collect data of incidents reported of voter suppression through Twitter. For this we chose Nexalogy which monitors tweets for keywords that we chose including “VOTER”, “SUPPRESSION”, “INTIMIDATION” and “LONG LINES”. It also enables us to pay close attention (geofence) to tweets originating from certain counties and cities prone to voter suppression.

Processing and filtering data requires both technology and manpower. SeeSay 2020 uses trained volunteers from Students For Justice to screen and categorize submissions online. The task is split into parallel streams so that multiple volunteers can work in parallel to manage the workload. Students for Justice (a program of Reclaim Our Vote) is an internship program directed by Claire Ullman and Sandy Radoff for current college students, including those taking gap years, and recent graduates. The program meets two urgent needs –the need to fight voter suppression and apathy, and students’ need for meaningful, safe internship opportunities. Interns work remotely on projects related to community organizing all aimed at getting out the vote.

John Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard depends on ArcGIS from esri to quickly collect and display large amounts of data.

See Say 2020

See Something, Say Something was first deployed in the 2018 mid-terms along with Trust The Vote, NBCSamantha Bee and Rock The Vote. It collected over 2,000 reports of voting issues which can still be seen on this dashboard. The data collected was shared with other groups for legal and analysis purposes.

See Say 2018 was first launched for the 2018 mid-terms along with Samantha Bee, NBC and Trust The Vote.

See Say 2020 is an enhanced version of the solution to include social media monitoring of voter suppression incidents; a more streamlined approach to handling submissions with more volunteers; the ability to collect pictures of poll tapes and a broader network of of partners including the Black American Music AssociationReclaim Our Vote features it on billboards across South Carolina. Jennifer Cohn, an expert on election security has praised it on Twitter. More partnership announcements to follow. See Say 2020 now has a new logo designed by Camille French.

See Say 2020 has been featured on billboards in South Carolina and praised by Jennifer Cohn.
See Say 2020 has a brand new logo

Takeaway: WAZE helps drivers reach their destination faster by sharing what they see and using this collected intelligence to help other drivers. SEE SAY 2020 uses the same crowdsourcing approach to focus attention on obstacles to voting and build a free, shared resource for voting rights groups to use in the future to improve the voting experience. Learn more about partnering with See Say here.


Image credit: The Noun Project
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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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