New wiki aims to stop voter suppression in US presidential election

Blogger harnesses Web 2.0 to publicize attempts to block voters from casting ballots

While there have been myriad Web 2.0 projects set up to sway voters toward one presidential candidate or another, a new wiki is honing in on voter suppression, or what its developers call systematic attempts to block certain voters from casting their ballot.

The new Voter Suppression Wiki was launched late last week by blogger Baratunde (who blogs under the name Jack Turner), a supporter of Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama, to provide a central location for reports on efforts to keep certain voters from the polls in the 2008 election.

"Voting is controlled by the states, and many states have had a history of trying to limit the votes of certain groups, especially blacks and poor whites," he contended in a blog post about the launch of the wiki. "We want the wiki to offer an explanation of what these [voter suppression] tactics are, places to learn more about them and the laws involved."

He went on to note that many forms of voter suppression revolve around voter registration, such as purging legitimate voters from databases, or discouraging or preventing people from registering. Other tactics include not providing enough ballots for registered voters in a precinct, he added.

This morning, the wiki's incident tracker noted various reports of what its users characterized as voter suppression tactics, including reports that Michigan's Republican Party plans to use foreclosure lists to challenge votes and that Wisconsin's Attorney General is suing to force a database check of voter registration.

Organizers hope the wiki can highlight suppression tactics and mobilize action to combat them and prevent further efforts, Thurston added. Registered users can edit pages, update entries and report incidents while unregistered users can participate in discussion forums.

"Knowledge is powerful, but only to the extent that you use it to inform decisions. We don't just want to create a group of pissed off people. We want to create a group of pissed off people who are going to write letters, make phone calls and file lawsuits to protect citizens' votes."

Jon Pincus, an organizer of an online protest launched by Obama supporters against the candidate's stance on the so-called warrantless wiretapping program, advised Thurston on the creation of the new wiki.

Pincus noted in a blog post that the line between voter suppression and unintentional mistakes related to voting software and databases is often blurry. Pincus added that almost all voter suppression relies on what he calls "information asymmetry," which the wiki aims to surface. And, he added, whether intentional or unintentional, voter suppression can hurt both political parties.

"If voters know that they may have been purged from the database and it's still before the registration deadline, they can check and if necessary re-register," Pincus said. "If college students know that they actually won't put their student loans at risk by registering, then they'll ignore the misleading information from the county. And once tens of thousands of people realized that their votes might not be counted in LA County, there was an outcry - which meant that officials had to react rather than sweeping problems under the table."

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Heather Havenstein

Computerworld (US)

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