< Photo Finish

Transcript

Friday, October 31, 2008

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Whether you pull a lever or punch a card or put your finger on a screen, you always pull the curtain, because voting is private, right?

David Ardia, the director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard University, says it doesn't have to be. He wants people to take cameras into the polling place and document their votes. He believes that with a few million cell phone cameras and a handful of newly-launched election watch websites, voters can begin to repair our glitch-laden election system ourselves.

The data can be posted and assessed and maybe, just maybe, some voting irregularities can be fixed before the polls close. The only problem is that in at least six states, it’s illegal to snap a pic of your completed ballot, because if people could prove their votes, they could sell them, or worse, be coerced to vote a certain way.

As for the other 44 states, Ardia says that even if you wanted to abide by the voting laws, good luck figuring out what they are.
DAVID ARDIA:
They're not easy to find. They're full of legal jargon that is ambiguous, especially when applied to modern technologies. You then have to deal with how your own polling place workers have interpreted the law through their training, if they've even had training on this issue.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
But I'm not sure how photographing the ballot can actually help iron out these irregularities. I mean, you’re mainly interested in addressing irregularities in nearly real time, right? And I don't see how a picture of your ballot can do that.
DAVID ARDIA:
First, the thing to remember is that it isn't just someone taking an image of their actual ballot. It’s their entire experience in voting, from arriving at the polling place, waiting in line. It isn't simply a focus on having someone take a video image of their marked ballot.

But even in that narrow piece of information – and let's say, for example, that someone who voted in Florida in 2000 and was faced with a butterfly ballot couldn't figure out who they were voting for, the ability to take a picture of it and to share it with others, to say, does anyone else find this confusing, if they're leaving the polling place and they're uploading it and a few minutes later it pops up on a voter suppression Wiki or it pops up on YouTube or one of these other services, all of a sudden now there’s an opportunity to actually get corrected ballots out to a polling place in enough time to actually impact the current election.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
But this information, you know, goes up into the ether. Maybe it'll pop up on a Wiki or on a voter suppression site. If there is no one central area gathering this data, how can it be assessed? Is there a meta-site?
DAVID ARDIA:
I'm not aware of a site right now that is aiming to be that meta-site. These are experiments, and so some of these sites are gonna do it better than others.

As time goes on, we will end up with perhaps one place or a series of places where voters can go and get a real-time picture of what’s going on in the election that aggregates information from all of these different sources.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
I don't have to tell you how partisan this whole argument over voter fraud and voter suppression is, has always been, and especially since Florida in 2000. How do you know that the information you’re getting hasn't been fixed?
DAVID ARDIA:
First, we look for enough information to start to outweigh the few individuals who are looking to game the system. And so, through what’s a sort of crowd-sourcing-type effect, the truth of what’s going on will begin to become clear.

The other way that this can be addressed is this is an opportunity for traditional media organizations to use this information. You see something coming up in a polling place outside a major city, for example, in Ohio. It’s an opportunity to go to that location, start to interview voters, start to find out what it is that’s perhaps causing these reports to come in, and through that process we begin to become more certain that the information is reliable.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
So David, to what extent is your goal to highlight the unbelievably disorganized voting process in America? Are you hoping that this photography will be a force that pushes real reform?
DAVID ARDIA:
I absolutely hope so. You know, one of the problems with election reform has been the dispersed nature of the problems – problems with voting machines, long lines, registration problems. Those are affecting a lot of voters. But because they're happening largely to individuals and because there isn't - hasn't in the past been a way of really assessing the wide extent, they haven't formed an impetus for voting reform.

This is an opportunity to collect this information, certainly in a more comprehensive way, and to do so in a relatively real time so that we can start to see what’s really going on, on Election Day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
I just want to thank you so much [LAUGHS] for doing this. I know some people have nightmares about, you know, the credit crunch and some people have nightmares about loose nukes, but I actually have had nightmares about stolen elections.
DAVID ARDIA:
[LAUGHS] I hope that the Video Your Vote, that this is an opportunity to shine sunlight as the best disinfectant on preventing those things from happening.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
David Ardia is director of the Citizen Media Law Project and a fellow at the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard University. You can link to his site for a list of places to post your information at Onthemedia.org.