Rate Your Polling Place with “Yelp for Democracy”

In anticipation of a Nov. 6 replay of the myriad problems that struck local polling places on Election Day in 2008 and 2004, an initiative dubbed MyFairElection aims to find which precincts experience the most difficulties.

The website is the brainchild of Archon Fung, a professor of democracy and citizenship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and he calls it something like “Yelp for democracy,” comparing his creation to the popular site where the public can rate businesses and contractors.

Those who register with the site will receive a voting reminder on Election day, and be invited to give their voting experience a rating of one to five stars.  If enough voters sign up and give ratings, MyFairElection will be able to create a real-time national “weather map” of voting conditions down to the precinct-level.  Then localized maps can help identify problem areas for journalists, civic groups and election authorities to examine more closely.

Fung traces his inspiration not only to Yelp but also Ushahidi, a platform originally devised in 2008 to crowdsource the tracking of post-election violence in Kenya, which more recently has been used to coordinate disaster response around the world.

Another precursor to MyFairElection is Election Protection, which was one of the first attempts to crowdsource the reporting of widespread polling problems in the U.S.  After the 2004 Ohio fiasco, where the gross misallocation of voting machines may have swung the election, and widespread concerns about the reliability of electronic voting, groups like Election Protection sprang up to track voting problems using the now arcane-sounding method of a telephone hotline.

Fortunately for those voters still without a smartphone, that toll-free number — 866-OUR-VOTE — is up and running this election season and has already started posting reports received from early voters.

While groups like Election Protection collect more detailed reports about serious problems than the simple 5-star ratings to be gathered by MyFairElection, the hope is that this very simplicity will broaden participation, and also register the frequency of difficulties which may not be quite egregious enough to prompt an angry phone call to the Election Protection hotline.

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