Debug the vote? Looking out for trouble on Tuesday

With unprecedented turnout expected for Tuesday's elections, a number of efforts are underway to use the net and allied technologies to monitor voting glitches or irregularities.

Individuals connected with many vote monitoring efforts have already gotten their marching orders. Calls went out this summer for geeks of all sorts to step up as election site workers and e-voting machine technicians; Premier, Hart InterCivic, ES&S, and Sequoia all posted multiple calls for tech folks to serve as on-site tech support on November 4. As for observers, groups such as Mobilize.org were signing up younger and perhaps more tech-aware poll workers. And outspoken BlackBoxVoting.org has published a 78-page guide (PDF available here) to monitoring every step of the current elections.

Twitter users are in a very good position to report on what's happening -- after all, you're more likely to have your phone on your person at the polling place than your laptop. Twitter Vote Report, a nonpartisan effort, will collect eyewitness information on long lines, machine breakdowns, and other trouble throughout the day. (Twitter users may submit reports by using the hash tag #votereport, and there's a tag in case you need to report serious trouble -- use #EPxx plus your two-letter state abbreviation. Nonusers can also participate through various means.)

On the other hand, some folks are bolder and may wish to deploy video cameras in the quest for fairness. Video the Vote is accepting footage of problems -- suppression, disenfranchisement, long lines and so on -- though potential filmmakers are asked to adhere to guidelines covering recording in and near polling places. The Citizen Media Law Project has an excellent work-in-progress guide to state laws covering recording in and near polling places, not to mention public display of your own ballot.

If you'd like to report on your voting experience or alert the world to trouble, some sites allow you to file reports either by phone or online. Election Protection has a toll-free number (866-OUR-VOTE, or 866-687-8683) for reporting purposes; Our Vote Live is already cataloging and displaying those reports as they arrive -- 40,511 at press time. You can also document bad experiences on its Web site. The Voter Suppression Wiki has also been monitoring the situation.

What if you just want to get through the day with minimal drama and maximum effectiveness? Many election observers suggest that if you have a choice, traditional paper ballots or optical-scan ballots are a better bet than DRE (touchscreen) machines. And if DREs are your destiny, a former ES&S employee suggests that you take an ordinary #2 pencil with you into the booth and use its eraser, not your fingers, to tap the screen.

Above all things, voters are strongly encouraged to pay attention to what's happening as they vote -- in particular, voters should scrutinize summary screens for problems if they're using DRE machines. After all, if it happened to Oprah it can certainly happen to you.

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