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General News    H4'ed 11/7/18

Surfing Twitter to Save Votes: VRA National Command Center Hip Hops to the Rescue

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Howard University law students answering Tweets from distressed voters confronted by a plethora of roadblocks
Howard University law students answering Tweets from distressed voters confronted by a plethora of roadblocks
(Image by Marta Steele)
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"Voting should be easy."--Gabe Gopen

"For anyone to think there's a way to manipulate the [voting] process because you're secretary of state is outrageous."--Georgia SoS and newly elected governor Jack Kemp

It was Tuesday, bloody Tuesday. 1-866-OURVOTE and other help lines were ringing off the hook, but in Washington, DC, at the Hip Hop Caucus center near Dupont Circle, Howard University law students sat around a table communicating with hundreds of voters in silence.

They were surfing Twitter for voting problems using keywords that inventively reached unanswered cries for help at dysfunctional polling sites. I did some surfing myself. The tidal wave of tweets came in from New York City, which offers no early voting, so that the polls were hugely crowded in this year that brought out at least twice the number of voters in 2014, including more youth than voted for Obama in 2008.

I communicated with one New Yorker from a posh Brooklyn neighborhood who said that "[I] [w]ent to vote this a.m. and found very long lines. Turned out that only 1 of 2 scanning machines was working! The long line was caused by that. Then, in a moment of panic, the 2nd machine stopped working because a woman put a wrinkled piece of paper in it and it got stuck! 15 minute wait for repair. I scanned. Then I left. Hour and 1/2 in all."

I thanked her for her patience. Brooklyn voters complained in large numbers. Throughout the Big Apple optical scanners were malfunctioning because the number of people using them was such an overflow, people concluded. The machinery was purchased and used for the first time in 2009, over the "dead bodies" of a number of opponents dead set on keeping their lever machinery. Thus, the scanners were nearly 10 years old, old enough to be replaced. Malfunctioning scanners were by far the most frequent complaint among those command center personnel communicated with.

Long lines and wait times were routine in New York City as a result. The weather was bad. Why must we vote in this dour month of November, I wonder? The original reason is beyond outdated--related to the needs of farmers back in the nineteenth century. Perhaps a scientific study would be done on when on average the weather is most likely to be sunny and comfortable throughout the country and scheduling be based on that.

Other voters were caged--punished for choosing not to vote, in some instances, because they didn't like any of the candidates over two consecutive general elections and "none of the above" has not yet been added as an option.

What difference might the option "none of the above" make in election results? It could represent a powerful statement that the people are sick and tired of having to vote for the lesser of two evils. That's why ranked-choice voting (RCV) is gaining popularity. Voters are given more options than two. The counting process may take longer--so much for 21st-century digital instant gratification, but if "none of the above" becomes an option, fewer responses in this category would be received.

Right now, many people stay home to indicate their choice of "none of the above." This option on the ballot might attract more of them to the polls to vote for down-ballot candidates if not those at the top of the ballot.

From another site in Brooklyn where scanners weren't working, one voter tweeted that all those in line were awaiting "emergency paper ballots." What are opscan ballots if not paper? There were also reports of wet ballots not scanning in rainy or heavy-humidity areas. Other complaints focused on inept, disorganized polling-place staff, others who arrived to initiate the voting process late, and "registration-related issues." The deadline for registration in New York was a postmark of October 12 and arrival to election offices by October 17. No same-day registration (SDR).

There were voter ID problems and, even in Brooklyn, someone disguised as an ICE agent stood menacingly at the polls. No authentic ICE agents were anywhere near the polls on Election Day throughout the country, a law student told me. Others in Brooklyn were locked out of polling places and accessibility was inadequate for other voters.

If you ask me, "Why New York only, and Brooklyn in particular?" I can only answer with suppositions that New Yorkers are more assertive and verbal than others or that more scanners malfunctioned there than in other places, but in the latter case I don't think that conclusive evidence is available yet. Brooklyn voters experienced egregious difficulties in 2016 also. Even Ivanka Trump didn't attempt to register soon enough to be able to vote for her father in the 2016 primaries in The City.

Moreover, there were plenty of problems all over the country. Many of them were fabricated to abet GOP victories, as has been publicized even in some mainstream media vehicles, and many others are attributable to insufficient funds allocated to improve the voting experience--who was in charge there? If everyone who could vote did vote in this country, we need machinery functional enough to accommodate them.

Back to the room with the long table. Around 4:30, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, surprised us with a visit to encourage and invigorate the hard-working volunteers, none of whom would accept the $20 stipend offered by Barbara Arnwine, head of the Transformative Justice Coalition and the Voting Rights Alliance, the two sponsoring organizations. But we all enjoyed the overflowing refreshments table provided. No one went hungry at the Hip Hop Caucus headquarters yesterday.

"Until voting rights become universal, we need to make every effort to make every vote count," said volunteer Gabe Gopen.

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Marta Steele Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Marta Steele is an author/editor/blogger who has been writing for since 2006. She is also author of the 2012 book "Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: The Election Integrity Movement's Nonstop Battle to Win Back the People's Vote, (more...)

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