Saving Democracy with Twitter

It was inevitable that online political organizers would find innovative ways to use social media during this election season, but I am part of a project that’s got me incredibly excited about the organizing potential of Twitter. If you haven’t heard about the election cycle’s most controversial issue–voter suppression–you’ve been spending too much time reading Mashable and not enough time following the news. I’m not talking about the Republicans’ tarted up ACORN voter registration fraud “controversy” (something altogether different and much less serious than voter fraud), I’m talking about tactics deployed by political operatives to keep people from exercising their right and responsibility to vote.

Enter Twitter. Twitter is a micro-blogging tool that limits you to individual entries of 140 characters or less. Individuals use Twitter to share short messages with friends and family and whoever else they give permission to “follow” them. Now marketers and businesses are using Twitter to network and communicate with their customers and political organizers have begun using Twitter to spread important messages throughout their activist base. I wrote about the #dontgo movement, the first large-scale Twitter political activist campaign earlier this year, and it was only a matter of time before someone found a way to turn Twitter into a critical online political organizing tool for elections.

First, Comedian, activist, Obama supporter, and Jack & Jill Politics blogger Baratunde Thurston launched the Voter Suppression Wiki. Next, a series of discussions on and off blogs about how Twitter could be used to fight voter suppression ended with the formation of a group of political organizers and advocacy organizations collaborating on the ultimate democratic use for Twitter–tracking and notification of voter suppression across the country. How will it work? People on the ground will send coded “tweets” (messages) through Twitter. Anyone who is a victim or witness of voter suppression can send a tweet using the following simple hashtags to make sure that it’s received by volunteers who can coordinate the appropriate response.  The hashtags to be used to report voter supression are:

  • #votereport
  • #EP{two-letter state code} – e.g. EPNY for New York, EPOH for Ohio (for serious legal issues only)
  • #machine – use this tag to signal a problem with a voting machine
  • #registration – use this tag to signal problems with the registration process, people being turned away for paperwok reasons
  • #wait:time – use this tag to signal a long wait. Add a colon and the wait time in minutes – e.g. #wait:30 for half an hour, #wait:120 for two hours

The tagged Twitter data will be parsed and distributed through feeds to several of the partners working on the project who will then be able to determine the needed response in each voting location reporting trouble. You can read more about the details on the Twitter Vote Report wiki.

Voter suppression and the Twitter Voter Report project is going to be a huge story on election day and all of you can be a part of it. Visit the Twitter Voter Report and find out how. Developers can join the nationwide Jelly network jam session and anyone can can share their experiences with other people in real-time using Twitter. You can help other voters not to show up when the lines are too long, and let the media and watchdog groups know that there are machinery problems or that voters are being asked for identification unnecessarily (or necessarily if they are first-time voters) in certain precincts.

You can be part of the most revolutionary use of social media yet. Stay tuned for more updates.

Some of the Twitter Vote Report Partners include:


  1. this is fantastic! if you haven’t already made contact, please let me know if i can put you in touch with the People for the American Way and their Election Protection campaign. i was hoping they would have some sort of twitter strategy, so i hope they jump on the bandwagon here.

    is #votereport the generic hashtag? i want to be sure to spread the word, and want to make it as easy as possible for people.

  2. also, this link is making the rounds — i just saw it from @peoplefor:

    it’s an older article, so i hope they are adopting your (much simpler) hashtag suggestions.

  3. Hey thanks Hillary. The EP people are one of the partners and I’ll check on PFAM. Yes, #votereport will be tracked as one of the generic hashtags. So will #ep (election protection). Thanks for the support!

  4. Yes, Nancy Scola and Allyson Fine are involved in the project. Thanks again!

  1. 1 Somebody’s listening « Virtual Unity =

    […] Article on Voter Report Voter Report […]

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