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Update: Twitter Vote Report Project Gathers Steam

BY | Monday, October 20 2008

In the two weeks since we first proposed using Twitter to report election day problems and challenges, both the response to the idea and how it has evolved has been, frankly, remarkable. The established groups who work in election protection have been amazingly receptive to the adoption of an open format for vote reporting, eager to benefit from a combined effort. And a collection of excellent developers and activists are at work building out the protocol and tools for making the most of the resulting data. While work on the project is pretty fluid, we're going to give you an update on where things stand today.

First off, the partnerships formed have been outstanding. They include working relationships between non-partisan groups like Election Protection coalition (the umbrella organization behind the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline), Rock the Vote, Credo Mobilize, the Voter Suppression Wiki, Demos, the League of Young Voters, the Open Resource Group, NPR, and, of course, techPresident and Personal Democracy Forum. A constantly updated list of partners is available on the wiki up at, which serves the hub for the project.

In addition to recommending people use the basic #votereport hashtag for all Twitter-based reporting of voting problems, conversations with partners and contributors has evolved further standardized tagging that suit our need to keep the reporting as simple as possible for Twitterers and useful for watchdog groups and other voters. The tags include:

  • Secondary tags -- #machine for troubles with a voting machine, #registration for registration problems, and #wait:time (e.g. #wait:90) for extended wait times.
  • #EP[two letter state code] for serious legal issues; for example #EPOH for Ohio: The Election Protection coalition's local staffers will be tracking those hashtags for troubles, and a guide is being developed to detail what sort of problems should be reported with an EP tag.
  • zipcode: This is the most universally known geographic tag that provides a valuable resolution of data.

A superb collection of developers have been working together to build out the project, and there's some very neat stuff in the works. (We don't want to mention anyone in particular at the risk of leaving out valuable contributors. Again, check out the wiki to see who is working on what.) We're looking at visualizations from Twittervision to Google Maps to Plodt and more. There may be an iPhone application, with a built-in call tool that automates some of the reporting. And plans are forming for a nationwide "jam session" for programmers to work on building out the project on Friday, October 24th.

Analyzing the tweets tagged with #votereport after the fact will be immensely valuable. We are aware of the need to ensure that the tweets are captured and stored for further assessments, and so a system is being set up to archive the tweets in an open database, available to anyone who wants it. That discussion is happening on the wiki.

There are, of course, still issues to be worked out. With 14 days and counting to Election Day, a few of them:

  • How do we reach out to groups that interact with people who have traditionally experienced voter suppression, so that this effort doesn't end up as a neat pastime for the Twittering class but misses the people and communities most in need of real help?
  • Is it necessary to have assigned "sweepers" to monitor tweets in real time to look for patterns and pass along potential problems to election protection experts, or will the organic response fill that role?
  • How do you balance advanced hashtags (which are being discussed on the wiki here) with usability, so that people can construct a good tweet in the field without being bogged down in details?
  • How to best clarify where this efforts fits into the spectrum between projects like PBS and YouTube's Video Your Vote and the 866-OUR-VOTE efforts?
  • How to invite and involve communities of people who may be unfamiliar with Twitter and might consider the effort beyond their technical know-how?

Stay tuned (or, better yet, join in) as we continue to refine the effort, add partners and build out the tools. Jump into the mix on our Google Group, edit the wiki, follow @votereport on Twitter, or keep an eye on this space and leave a comment here. And, of course, tag your vote report tweets with #votereport. Ready or not, we're gearing up to tweet our votes.