THE BLOG

How to Use Modern Crowdsourcing Apps to Keep an Eye on the Original Crowdsourcing App

11/16/2011 10:44 am ET | Updated Jan 07, 2012

The original crowdsourcing app, the voter booth, is going to be put to use tomorrow in thousands of municipalities around the United States. This once revolutionary app has been the staple of American democracy for hundreds of years and, until recently, was our best gauge of civicly engaged populations. Like every good app, the voter booth has upgrades, bugs and terms of service.

With the birth of Government 2.0, specific reporting applications like Ushahidi.com and SeeClickFix.com, along with the use of Twitter and Facebook as a constant source of feedback for governments, citizen engagement in the form of public feedback can be measured in realtime every day of the year. Some of this reporting energy has even been harnessed and channeled towards the goal of citizens solving these problems on their own, with the apps mentioned above and others intentionally designed for this purpose like neighborgoods.net and changeby.us.

Between the Arab Spring, The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, it certainly feels like civic participation is more virile than it has ever been in my lifetime. While there are many new opportunities for participation, voting on election day still remains the best way to hold our elected officials accountable. The voting booth app still remains the most important in our democracy and the effectiveness and integrity of that app is vital.

Not surprisingly, many of the apps and platforms mentioned above have been used in past years as the feedback loop and added layer of accountability for the voting app. In recent years, the ante has been upped when it comes to our civic responsibility. We are not only encouraged to vote but to speak up when the voting process does not work. I wanted to document a few of the tools and cases where they have been used for checking on the functionality of voting machines and violations of voter's rights and laws.

Ushahidi has proven to be a valuable tool for monitoring elections all over the world. The genesis of Ushahidi lies in election monitoring in Kenya where it was used to document violence and corruption around elections. The use of Ushahidi for monitoring elections has become so popular that there were 5 different deployments in the most recent Egyptian elections. For those who do not know Ushahidi, it is an open source platform that can be deployed as an individual instance by a local developer or remote developer looking to help in a crisis. Instructions on how to deploy Ushahidi can be found here: blog.ushahidi.com/index.php/2011/08/09/announcing-ushahidi-v2-1-tunis/

Twitter Vote Report is another example of crowdsourcing at the voting booth. In this instance, Tweeters use common hashtags and Tweet structures to rate the quality of the voting experience. Twittervotereport.com then aggregates all of that data in one place so others can lend a hand with solving some of the problems reported.

Most recently, the Journal Register Company has decided to use SeeClickFix to track voting booth problems. Journal Register Company owns 20 daily newspapers in the United States, as well as over 100 weeklies. All of those papers have websites that already use SeeClickFix to help connect citizens to their government through requests for service, so it was a natural transition to create a vote related election day map. The idea came from @ivanlajara at JRC's Kingston Daily Freeman. Users can use the same SeeClickFix mobile applications and web interfaces for reporting vote issues. Bloggers and local news web editor's can display that data with vote related keywords and keyword filters excluding the pothole reports and other civic feedback measures that are typical of SCF on the other 364 days. Instructions for how to do this can be found here. You can use SeeClickFix anywhere in the world to post a problem at the polls.

I'd be interested to hear about your own examples of crowdsourcing apps at the polls. The above examples are those that I am personally invested in, familiar with or were easily googleable. Please fill in the blanks on the post above and, of course, speak up through one of these channels when you see something wrong on election day.