I am a voting rights activist who has monitored elections in Ethiopia and Angola, and led democracy workshops in Kazakhstan. Since 2006, I have live-blogged from Election Day command centers organized by the Election Protection Coalition and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
I’m now spearheading Yo! Philly Votes, a citizen-led initiative that will crowdsource election protection in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the American democracy.
Some background: In 2008, the record turnout of young and minority voters propelled Barack Obama to victory. Since that historic election, there has been a wave of voting changes that make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote. Politicians are manipulating election laws for their own advantage.
The most burdensome change requires voters to show an acceptable form of photo ID in order to vote. Studies show restrictive photo ID requirements have a disproportionate impact on young and minority voters.
During the 2008 election cycle, Our Vote Live, the nation’s largest database of real-time incident reports, logged more than 86,000 of the 200,000 calls made to 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Pennsylvania had the fifth highest total number of calls to the Election Protection Hotline. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh reported the greatest number of problems.
With the flattening of newsrooms, there are fewer watchdogs to report on what’s happening at the polls. At the same time, there are new sources of real-time Election Day incident reports. Yo! Philly Votes will empower voting rights activists and ordinary citizens to monitor multiple sources of incident reports to ensure that problems are corrected before the polls close.
Yo! Philly Votes Planning for 2012
Yo! Philly Votes will use open data from the City Planning Commission, City Commissioners and Open Data Philly to create foursquare check-ins for Philadelphia’s polling places. Incident reports from Our Vote Live, Twitter, Video the Vote, Flickr and Instagram will be aggregated and visualized. Trusted users, including Unity ’12 coalition partners, members of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, poll workers, poll watchers, ward leaders, Foot Soldiers for Democracy, youth leaders and community activists, will be able to submit reports directly to Yo! Philly Votes. The reports will be searchable by polling place, zip code, ward or Council district.
The data will be contextualized with software developed by Jonathan Gosier, a former Director of Product for SwiftRiver at Ushahidi.
How you can support the Yo! Philly Votes team
We will develop Yo! Philly Votes at Hacks for Democracy, which will be held September 15-16, 2012 in Philadelphia. Hackers and designers are invited to participate in person or via Skype. For more information about this civic engagement project, please contact us.
[Ed. note: It has been very exciting to watch Faye grow this project. Last winter she participated in Random Hacks of Kindness and started Yo! Philly Votes. In June, I had the opportunity to meet her at the Personal Democracy Forum. It was great to answer her questions and learn more about her partnerships and planning. Faye's commitment to give voting voice to citizens is infectious and inspiring. Here's to a successful hackathon weekend, Faye and team!]