Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

With the NYC Vote a Mess, Mayor Mike Turns to Twitter. Should We Be Encouraged? Or Terrified?

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, November 1 2010

Photo credit: asterix611

New York City's Board of Elections is a mess. Just last week, the board fired executive director George Gonzalez for bungling a primary vote where polls opened late, ballot materials ran short, and machines didn't work. With one day to go, Mayor Mike Bloomberg is hoping that a passel of tweeting New Yorkers can step into the breach, reports the Wall Street Journal's Michael Howard Saul (via Anthony Russomano):

"There is no excuse for mistakes or poor management at polling sites, and so we are asking all New Yorkers to report any problems they experience on Election Day," he said. "You can call 311. Or, if you're a Twitter user, simply tweet your experience using #nycvotes."

Last month, the city Board of Elections replaced the old lever-voting machines with a new electronic-scanning system, causing a wide array of problems.

Some poll sites opened hours late. Many of the new machines malfunctioned. And many voters complained about a lack of privacy and mass confusion.

Mr. Bloomberg and other elected officials have said they are deeply worried these problems could resurface when a larger number of voters head to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots for governor, Congress, state attorney general, state comptroller and the entire state Legislature.

"We hope there's few problems, but given how the Board of Elections handled the primary, we really don't have a lot of confidence," Mr. Bloomberg said on Friday.

Now, we've been bearing witness to the fact that mobile vote reporting is all the rage this election cycle. See the recent Foursquare "I Voted" launch or American Majority's Voter Fraud app. Few of these experiments seem to be launched with enough lead time to make it possible for them to have all that much of an effect this election, but we do seem to very quickly be moving to the point where it's becoming conventional wisdom that elections in the United States are social experiences that are often troubled ones -- but, on the bright side, ones that what we know about all our fancy social tools like Twitter and Foursquare and Facebook might help, someday, to make better.

That said, the election problems that have the mayor of America's biggest and most complicated city directing people towards Twitter are a reminder that American voting system has a looong way to go before it's optimized. Forgive the self-link, but back in 2008 I suggested that "new media's obsessiveness" might be a key to "redeeming the vote" in the United States, given that, at least at the time, it seemed a strength of the blogosphere to focus with a geek's laser-like focus on structural problems, from the merits of electronic voting machines to whether it still makes sense for Americans to vote on Tuesdays. We're seeing tremendous amount of innovation when it comes to mobile vote reporting, yup. That's true. But it's probably fair to say that there hasn't been, over the last two years, the sort of collaborative and sustained attention to the deep problems ailing our voting system that we might have reasonably expected to see.

It's certainly neat that we have Twitter and Foursquare and iPhone apps to help clean up American elections at the edges. But are we letting the shine bouncing off those tools blind us to the reality that voting problems aren't going away just because the mayor announces a new hashtag?

News Briefs

RSS Feed wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

More