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The Twitter Vote Report

    With a high expected voter turnout and problematic elections in the past, notably in 2000 and 2004; this year’s voting system was under heavy pressure to compete at its best. In an attempt to help solve many of the problems faced in the Presidential Elections, Nancy Scola and Allison Fine proposed the usage of an online Twitter based system as solution to continually report voting experience data. With the help of many programmers and web designers, the site Twitter Vote Report was created.

    The Twitter Vote Report project began as a blog entry by Nancy Scola and Allison Fine. Voter caging, miss leading fliers, faulty machinery, long waits due to poorly trained poll workers are just a few of the problems election day could hold (1). These problems are often a result of lack in communication and knowledge.

    As a solution to help keep people informed and prevent such slowdowns, one of the best forms of communication is the internet, specifically micro-blogging systems such as Twitter. As an established stable system, Twitter allows for 140 characters or less posts to be sent quickly from person-to-person, person-to-many, and many-to-many.

    By using a flexible twitter based system, it was possible to create a website dedicated to reporting the status of voting polls and voter experience around the country. The system was designed so that messages could be sent and received in the form of text, SMS, and voice. This enabled voters to relay information about their poll status from pocket devices such as cell phones. All the data received was then dynamically aggregated and presented in real time using the Google Maps interface.

Much of twitter’s power comes from its flexible design. As problems come up, volunteers and activists can organize on the fly to get information out. Twitter could act as a form of mobile legal aid. If voting problems arise messages could be sent privately to groups designed specifically for guidance. Answers to these questions could either be sent privately or broadcasted to all users.

    During Election Day, Twitter could be used to help monitor and manage the wait times at polling places. Voters at polling stations could send an SMS message to the Twitter Vote Report system letting people know the estimated wait. Poll wait times could be found on the dynamic Google Map along with any other problems that may be occurring at the poll. To prevent mass confusion, messages that are received are subject to review by the Twitter Vote Report administrators.

    I agree with Scola and Fine main point, that there are major problems with communication among voters and polling sites. With several communication based problems occurring in the past and an immense increase in younger voters, I think the building of such a system was in the right path. Many young voters are already technologically savvy making the process of sending text or SMS messages straightforward.

    In the blog proposing the Twitter based system, Scola and Fine use the example of the college kids in Virginia’s Montgomery County as an example of a lack in communication power among students. On August 27, 2008, news broke out that voting in the state may jeopardize their student loans and scholarships (2). If there had been a central hub on Twitter for voter communication, information could have been transferred easily and the chaos ensued could have been avoided. During Election Day, the Twitter Vote report proved to be highly successful. A Twitter user @wellstoneaction tweeted that a polling place in Minnesota was difficult to find due to “road closures and a lack of signs?(3). The voter’s complaint was picked up by the Twitter Vote Report site and within minutes of his message, he was contacted by a member of the Election Protection in Minnesota who ended up solving the issue (3). The Twitter Vote Report service was an invaluable tool for Election Protection, which fielded numerous complaints, and kicked off 20 investigations due to reports that came in from the service (3).

    Although the Twitter Vote Report served as an aid to many investigations and complaints, it fell into criticism. In the article Post-Election Analysis of The Twitter Vote Report, the author Bob Conrad argued that “few conclusions can be drawn other than that the data, and their criteria for acceptance, are essentially a mess?(4). He argued that this was due in part to “a minority of users dominating the public Twitter stream?(4). Although I agree improvement could be made on certain aspects such as the number of users and subjectivity of posts, the opposing points Conrad argued with failed to indentify the true purpose of the Twitter project. According to one of the organizers at the Twitter Vote Report,

“The goal was to get a report of what was going on at polling places around the country and we did that in a new and innovative way. This was an all volunteer project with no money or resources around so I think it’s fair to point out flaws but that's about it. The reason the data is transparent is so that people like you can look at it and improve upon it for future use. The goal is to show everyone what we did so that more people can work on it and improve it.?(5)

    Although there were faults with the system, I think ultimately the Twitter Vote Report project was a great step in the right direction. For a system designed in just three weeks (6), it’s impressive to see the collaboration among volunteers from both parties. It’s a prime example of the power of modern day social networking tools. Although there is a need for improvement, the Vote Report system is off to a great start. Even though the sending of SMS and text messages may not be something many elderly folks would take part in, teaching older people who are interested how to use such systems would be straight forward. The number of young and technically savy voters is rapidly growing and by using systems such as Twitter to aid in complex resource management during Election Day, people can stay informed and resources can be maximized.



Works Cited:

1. Nancy Scola and Allison Fine - Twitter: An Antidote to Election Day Voting Problems? http://www.nancyscola.com/2008/10/twitter_an_antidote_to_electio.html

2. Elizabeth Redden - Warning for College Student Voters, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/09/03/voting

3. Terrence O'Brien - Twitter Helps Out With Election Irregularities, http://www.switched.com/2008/11/05/twitter-helps-out-with-election-irregularities/

4. Bob Conrad - The Twitter Vote Report Analysis of Nevada’s Post-Election Data http://thegoodthebadthespin.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/twitttervotereportdataanalysis.pdf

5. Jesse Stay - Reno Bloggers Slam TwitterVoteReport After Limited Analysis http://www.louisgray.com/live/2008/11/reno-bloggers-slam-twittervotereport.html

6. Allyson Kapin - Twitter Vote Report Offers Real-Time Democracy on Election Day, http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/allyson-kapin/radical-tech/twitter-vote-report-offers-real-time-democracy-election-day

Comments

I completely agree with the author of this position, in that the Twitter system is a step in the right direction. With the continued evolution of technology, I believe this is a classical example of something that has gone through and will continue to go through the “trial and error? phase of completion. The Twitter program seems far from perfect and it was nice to see that most sources cited in this position seem to agree to some extend on this. I think that in time just like any other technological advancement, this will prove to be beneficial to today’s political world.

Even though I believe that the Twitter system is making great strides, some aspects have me questioning its overall affect on society. First of f, I have never heard of this Twitter system until reading this position, nor have other people I have asked. If the word is not getting around effectively how can the program be successful? The other thing this worries is the fact that our generation is such a small part of the entire voting population, how with the elderly crowd who are not as technologically inclined be able to make use of this?

Overall, my official response to this position statement is very similar to the concluding statement the author has made. I believe that in time this Twitter system will help improve voter turnout and will soon be as familiar to people as voting itself. I commend the founders of this system on their great effort to help improve the voter turnout in the nation today.

I also agree with the author of this position. The Twitter Vote Report seems to be a very valuable and beneficial resource in the U.S. voting process. With high voter turnout comes more potential problems - miscounts, recounts, long waits, even people who have been double-registered. In this age of technology, there are so many ways to instantly communicate and keep in touch. So why not harness this technology to fix the problems?

The Twitter Vote Report is taking a step in the right direction. Instant communication between voting sites and with the public would make things run a lot more smoothly. It is amazing that with today’s technology someone who can’t find a polling place can have that problem solved by a complete stranger in a matter of minutes. And how helpful would it be to know how long the waiting line ways before even going to the polls?

The ideas behind the Twitter Vote Report need to be taken a step further. If the government was behind a project like this one, communication and reports could be regulated and more easily distributed to the public. Poll workers could be required to send out regular text messages to a central headquarters, which would send the information to news stations or post it on the Internet. This way, people would know how to get to their polling place, and how long the wait was. Also, poll workers could report problems or potential complications. This would also make the whole voting process more accessible to voters, especially young people. The Twitter Vote Report has the right ideas, now these ideas just need to be harnessed into something more effective.

The authors that came up with the idea for using Twitter in combination with Google Maps to relay voting information is pure genius. I agree with the author of the position statement that using twitter is an effective way to communicate real time information at the polls with voting officials. I also agree that something needs to be done to make communication between the polls and officials. We had record voter turnout this year with many first time voters and if the process was long and riddled with problems it is safe to assume that some of those voters will not be back in two years for the midterm and subsequently in four years for the next presidential election. I strongly disagree with Bob Conrad and his criticism of the system. No one should criticize a volunteer effort. The people that created the twitter site were volunteers with no funding that put together a marvelous site in less than six weeks which I think is a major accomplished for even how much of an impact they may or may not have had on the election process. In my opinion I do believe that the process of voting in the near future will continually use technology and maybe will even be able to vote over the Internet. A system that uses your drivers license or social security number to vote similar to what is used to register could be very effective at cutting cost, and making it more efficient for people to vote.