May 28, 2024

Total Election Awareness

Ed recently made a number of predictions about election day (“Election 2008: What Might Go Wrong”). In terms of long lines and voting machine problems, his predictions were pretty spot on.

On election day, I was one of a number of volunteers for the Election Protection Coalition at one of 25 call centers around the nation. Kim Zetter describes the OurVoteLive project, involving 100 non-profit organizations, ten thousand volunteers that answered 86,000 calls with a 750 line call-center operation (“U.S. Elections — It Takes a Village”):

The Election Protection Coalition, a network of more than 100 legal, voting rights and civil liberties groups was the force behind the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline, which provided legal experts to answer nearly 87,000 calls that came in over 750 phone lines on Election Day and dispatched experts to address problems in the field as they arose.

Pam Smith of the Verified Voting Foundation made sure each call center had a voting technologist responsible for responding to voting machine reports and advising mobile legal volunteers how to respond on the ground. It was simply a massive operation. Matt Zimmerman and Tim Jones of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and their team get serious props as developers and designers of the their Total Election Awareness (TEA) software behind OurVoteLive.

As Kim describes in the Wired article, the call data is all available in CSV, maps, tables, etc.: I just completed a preliminary qualitative analysis of the 1800 or so voting equipment incident reports: “A Preliminary Analysis of OVL Voting Equipment Reports”. Quite a bit of data in there with which to inform future efforts.


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  2. I can’t hope to answer all your comment, Preston. It is a qualitative analysis, not useful for drawing general or quantitative conclusions. Some places were plagued by long lines and faulty equipment. Other places were adequately prepared. 86,000 calls is the amount of calls were were able to field, and we were maxed out… and none of us will hide the fact that half of those 86,000 calls were polling place location inquiries (that’s part of what the hotline was designed to do). The data is lumpy. Our PR arm was good about advertising in forms of mass media, but those might not be the forms of media that you consume.

    What I feel from your comment and from a brief look at your blog, is that you’re concerned about discouraging turn out with reports of lines and failures. I feel that. However, as someone who straddles the quantitative and qualitative realms as well as the academic, policy and advocacy realms, this exercise — and future incarnations, as it was highly successful — are first about helping people who reach us and that we can reasonably assist and second about capturing this data as a basis for future reform and inquiry.

    • Joe, without any doubt, I encourage your interest and energy as devoted to improving the voting process, as an aspect of our democracy. My interest in improving the overall outcome is absolute – and I want to encourage you and your peers to whatever extent is possible.

      At the same time I do want to caution you to carefully distinguish between what is currently “popular” (for some subset of the population), and what is quantitatively “real” and provable. Do not let fashion (for some subset) distract you from common/real outcomes.

      The voting process can be improved. We need to maintain a firm distinction between common perceptions, and actual facts. Anything else will not be of service to our society (as we would like it to be).

  3. You say – “In terms of long lines and voting machine problems, his predictions were pretty spot on” – which I very much doubt.

    First, there are always malfunctions on election day. This is nothing new. This has nothing to do with the use of voting machines. Malfunctions can happen when voting purely with paper ballots. The question is if the malfunctions are significant or systematic. The question is unrelated to the method used for collecting votes.

    Second, I am not defending current voting machines (no chance of that!). Rather I am criticizing your methodology. You are not telling a useful story.

    Third, what does the reported 86,000 “calls” mean? The number is a ridiculously small compared to the number of voters, and so is not intrinsically meaningful. How did voters learn of the obscure “Election Protection Coalition” or “OurVoteLive” entities (of which I remember no mention before now)? Given the fact that I have a fairly high interest in this general area, and knew nothing of of either … who did know and how? My guess is that many of those calls represent individual or location-specific duplicates – which if true would mean the far smaller number of actual problems.

    And last, do not forget the scale of the vote-collecting process. My county had about 2,000 polling places for about 1% of the country’s voters. If the number of reported problems represent an insignificant fraction of the voting places (and often only a small part of the voting day), then the data supports no overall conclusions..

    My guess is that your data is very “lumpy”, and represents an insignificant fraction of polling places and voters.