Fighting back against voter suppression at the polls: Live-blogging the precincts on election day

This post was originally published on July 16, 2012. I’m moving it back to the top because I’ll be discussing this topic this morning at 8.35am on First Shift.

The Republicans are notorious for voter suppression. This notoriety is at the heart of the undeserved accolades showered upon Governor Snyder since his veto of 3 voter suppression bills. The accolades are undeserved because Governor Snyder has said that he has no problem with the content of the voter suppression bill; he only vetoed the bills due to some technicalities on how the actual suppression is carried out. He’ll be signing the bills next time around.

Voter suppression is nothing new by the Michigan Republicans, it’s been going on for years. The most recent and morally offensive case of suppression was probably when Terry Lynn Land — Secretary of State & Chair of the Michigan John McCain campaign — tried to use home foreclosure lists to purge voter rolls. There’s something especially gross about taking a list of people who have been through something traumatic and making them prove that they are eligible to vote, like the rest of us. Our current Secretary of Suppression, Ruth Johnson, is terrified that illegal immigrants are trying to vote. Much like Penny Pingleton’s mom was terrified that black people were going to attack.

So all that being said, what can you do to help make sure that people get to vote on election day? Leading up to election day you can participate in voter registration drives, voter awareness campaigns, etc. But what do you on election day to protect the vote?

The various campaigns, parties, and clubs, will have execution plans for the election. They will be organizing get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts and poll-watching activities. You should coordinate with your local party if you would like to get involved on this level. Those of you who don’t want to get involved with a group activity can still help protect the vote on election day.

One of the most effective things an individual can do is travel the county and live-blog the election. I’ve been doing this since 2006 and it’s been very productive for our county. I encourage every county to have at least two people doing this, and several more if possible. Here’s what I’ve learned from doing this:

Prior to election day:

  • Learn the rules! You want to know what is ok and what isn’t. Examples: Is the photo ID / citizenship question ok? Can you take pictures inside the poll station? Etc.
  • Set up a central reporting system. You may or may not be working closely with a party or a campaign, but if you are serious about protecting the vote then you need to report your observations in a productive way. In Shiawassee we report to the Party Chair; she reports to MDP, then the MDP attorney (I think?) contacts the election supervisor for the precinct.

    You can also call one of the 800 numbers that are set up to report voting irregularities. I prefer to work locally because I believe it is more effective in terms of long-term correction. If we have information about all of the problems in the county, then we can address those problems proactively in the future. I’m not sure if the information collected by the larger groups ever makes it back into the county party or other local voting-rights groups.

  • Additionally, decide how you are going to blog. I carry my smartphone, flip-video, laptop, and aircard. The phone goes with me no matter what, and I’ll tweet messages and pictures with it. I post blog & forum entries exclusively with the laptop and aircard; it’s a PITA to do that with the phone. I’ve never had to use the flip-video; I only carry it because something crazy might happen and I want to make sure I have something to back up the cell phone camera.

    Don’t forget to decide where you are going to blog. I use, twitter, facebook, and the shiawassee forums. That’s because I’m in Shiawassee and that’s where the Shiawassee readers will be.

  • Plan your travel! Take a look at a map of your county and decide what area you would like to blog-slash-patrol. I usually try to blog/patrol all of Shiawassee County, because I like to see what’s going on everywhere. This means I don’t actually visit all of the precincts in one day, but between the primary and the general election I do hit them all. In rural counties like mine, the cities will get the most attention during a campaign. It is a mistake for the live-bloggers to concentrate primarily on the cities because voters and other poll-watchers are more likely to report voting problems at the city precincts than in the rural precincts. Do your best to get out to the townships and villages and make sure their vote is protected too.

    Know your precinct locations and have an idea of the most efficient way to get from one precinct to another. GPS is great when it’s available, but you should be aware that there may be dead areas.

There’s your prep work. What do you do when election day rolls around?

  • Check in with the party. Are there any trouble spots being reported? If not, go ahead on your route.
  • When you arrive at a precinct, take a look around. Is there any road construction bottlenecking the traffic? Anything interfering with parking? Anyone campaigning within 100 feet of the entry? Go inside the precinct and try to experience the polling station from the voter’s perspective.
  • At some point during the visit I usually let the poll workers know what I’m doing. The reasons for doing so are,
    1. They don’t need to worry about what’s going on when they see me looking around
    2. It’s productive to build friendly relationships with election workers
    3. It shows people that someone is paying attention to what’s going on. (These people talk to each other!)

    It works out. Just a friendly word with them, I ask them how their day is going and if there’s anything they need. This is also a great time to get the vote totals from the machines. I report these numbers back to the party so we can keep track of turnout throughout the day.

  • If there is anything that may turn a voter away, you should engage your reporting system immediately. For me this means contacting the party HQ and they take it from there. I will also tweet the issue and if there is no “emergency” elsewhere then I will blog it immediately as well. After this I make a note to follow up as needed, then I go to my next stop.
  • Please for the love of all that is holy, do NOT confront the election workers. Just use the reporting system. Even if you think the person has bad intentions, the confrontation will make everyone uncomfortable and may even turn voters away from the polls. You cannot win by confronting poll workers, even if you are right. Keep a good relationship with the workers and just follow your plan.

And that is how I’ve spent pretty much every election day for the last few years. Throughout the day I may take calls to give people rides to the polls and I might pick up numbers after the polls close, but most of the time I’m just out there reviewing the precincts.

This precinct live-blogging plan has several advantages:

  1. All data is reported and retained locally so that we can use it in the future to check for patterns, repeat violations, etc.
  2. The MDP also has access to the data, for the same reasons as above
  3. Personal relationships can be leveraged if necessary.
  4. The blogging creates a record of activity as well as a training resource for future elections
  5. Social media invites interaction, and you may get multiple reports coming in from voters who have experienced things in other areas.

I’ll be talking about this on Blog Role this morning at 8.35. Listen at 1310am or live stream at, and feel free to call in or leave a comment here. :)

There are no cover bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Follow me on Twitter - @christinebarry
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  1. I hope people will volunteer for this program and contact MERA, Michigan Election Reform Alliance.

    MERA has an election monitoring program that we could use volunteers for to ensure our democracy is not hacked or stolekn.

  2. I agree 100% bruce – great comment..


  1. […] get out and about, I’m going to ask you to consider live-blogging the election. This is from my original post on that: This precinct live-blogging plan has several […]

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