Monday, July 28, 2008

Monitoring elections

Here's a really interesting idea via Archon Fung, one of the most interesting thinkers at Harvard's Kennedy School, has just come up with an intriguing idea for monitoring elections: a teched-up, wiki-based system for reporting problems on election day. It's modeled on the award-winning British site,, where people report maintenance problems (graffiti, potholes, broken street lights), locating the problem on a map and often attaching photographs to the entry. The site is interactive; it reports when a problem has been fixed and maps where current problems are so that you can figure out how things are working in your neighborhood. As you'll see from his introductory site, Fung envisions a much bigger version of this idea -- a national "weather map of election conditions" that would show you where the biggest problems are occurring based on real-time entries by trained election monitors and everyday citizens. You could then drill down into the map, figuring out exactly where problems were occurring in your state, city . . . even your polling place. The visuals would look something like this map of gas prices.

What makes Fung's idea promising is that it’s a "here to there" solution. It doesn't directly change how our elections are run. But it helps create an environment in which change is possible."

Neat and there has got to be the seed of an exercise there for the students obliged to read my electronic voting case study...?

Update: Prof. Gerken also links to one of her posts at Balkanization last year which makes a lot of sense. It goes to the heart of the practicalities of implementing electoral reform and could really be applied to any kind of political reform. Politicians and academics tend to ignore the practicalities of getting from where we are to where we would like to be, even when the destination is a positive one. There is no kudos in process. The trouble with this lack of interest in practicalities is that it is dangerous when the destination is also dangerous. Blair/Brown decide they are going to "fix" terrorism and immigration, for example; they jump on the "solution" of ID cards, say here's £10 billion now fix terrorism by spending it on those magic new fangled computer technology thingies; they don't want to know that it just won't work and expend vast amounts of energy selling what a good idea it is to fix terrorism with ID cards; and jumping up and down with their fingers in their ears yelling "not listening, not listening" when it is repeatedly pointed out that it can't be done that way.

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