On­line projects prom­ise to re­port re­sults in real time,

On­line projects prom­ise to re­lay re­sults, ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties be­fore win­ner de­clared

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Marco Chown Oved

Watch­ing the elec­tion will never be the same.

While many will still tune into CNN or other ca­ble net­works to fol­low the U.S. pres­i­den­tial re­sults after vot­ing ends, new tech­nol­ogy and a breach of an un­writ­ten rule in Amer­i­can me­dia mean that some peo­ple will al­ready have a good idea of the win­ner.

Real-time vot­ing re­sults, us­ing meth­ods that mimic in­ter­nal cam­paign pro­jec­tions, will be pub­licly avail­able for the first time Tues­day, al­low­ing elec­tors to see how their peers are vot­ing even be­fore they cast their own bal­lot.

At the same time, two projects with com­pet­ing vi­sions of elec­tion rig­ging have an­nounced their in­ten­tion to use web plat­forms to re­port vot­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties as they hap­pen. One side is de­ploy­ing vol­un­teers ex­pect­ing to find cases of vot­ers pre­vented from vot­ing, while the other an­tic­i­pates that in­el­i­gi­ble peo­ple will be per­mit­ted to vote.

Taken to­gether, these ini­tia­tives will com­bine to take pres­i­den­tial elec­tions from the era of live TV to the age of real-time web re­port­ing. Vote tal­lies on the fly The past sev­eral elec­tions, by con­ven­tion, Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion net­works have re­fused to re­port exit poll data be­fore vot­ing closed in a par­tic­u­lar state, un­der the be­lief that it might in­flu­ence elec­tors. This year, Slate.com is break­ing that taboo, but they’re tak­ing it a notch fur­ther.

In­stead of us­ing exit polls, which have proven to be no­to­ri­ously in­ac­cu­rate, Slate is team­ing up with poll­sters and dig­i­tal strate­gists re­cruited from both par­ties to pub­lish elec­tion re­sults while the polls are still open.

The pro­ject, called Vote­castr, con­ducts ex­ten­sive polling be­fore the elec­tion, pro­duc­ing a de­tailed pic­ture of likely out­comes in se­lected dis­tricts and even in­di­vid­ual vot­ing sta­tions. Then thou­sands of work­ers are de­ployed to polling sta­tions around the coun­try to re­port voter turnout over the course of the day.

By com­bin­ing live voter turnout with the ear­lier polling, Vote­castr can gauge if Hil­lary Clin­ton sup­port­ers are com­ing out in strong num­bers and if Don­ald Trump vot­ers have de­cided to stay home. This method, em­ployed by pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns for decades, has proven to be a re­mark­ably ac­cu­rate pre­dic­tor of ac­tual re­sults.

“Our goal is not to beat the net­works and wire ser­vices to declar­ing win­ners and losers — elec­tion night will still be­long to their an­a­lysts and their magic walls — but to guar­an­tee that cit­i­zens who have been en­trusted with a vote also have ac­cess to as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble about how their fel­low cit­i­zens are vot­ing,” wrote Sasha Issen­berg, the ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor at Vote­castr, in an es­say on Slate.

“Why shouldn’t vot­ers have ac­cess to the same in­for­ma­tion used to pro­file and sort them, in­for­ma­tion that can help make sense of the way that can­di­dates mar­ket to them through the elec­tion’s fi­nal hours?”

In Canada, re­port­ing East Coast re­sults be­fore polls were closed on the West Coast used to be banned by law. Last year, Elec­tions Canada dropped the ban, but also de­cided to mit­i­gate the po­ten­tial for early re­sults to im­pact later vot­ers by stag­ger­ing the open­ing hours for polling sta­tions across the coun­try. Issen­berg ar­gues there’s no data to sup­port the idea that knowl­edge of how oth­ers are vot­ing dis­cour­ages peo­ple from vot­ing and be­lieves these ef­forts to curb in­for­ma­tion will ul­ti­mately be fu­tile. Vote sup­pres­sion Prompted by poli­cies that have made it harder to vote, Elec­tion­land, an on­line vote-sup­pres­sion re­port­ing pro­ject, is stitch­ing to­gether a net­work of com­puter pro­gram­mers, ob­servers and re­porters across the U.S. to mon­i­tor vot­ing con­di­tions and flag prob­lems.

The ini­tia­tive, spon­sored by the non-profit jour­nal­ism pro­ject ProPublica and other or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing USA To­day, Univi­sion and Google News Lab, will gather leads on vot­ing prob­lems — gleaned from In­ter­net searches, so­cial me­dia posts and vol­un­teers on the ground — and pass them to lo­cal re­porters tasked with in­ves­ti­gat­ing ac­cess to the polls.

By tweet­ing out the sto­ries pro­duced, the pro­ject hopes to doc­u­ment long lines, ma­chine break­downs, bal­lot con­fu­sion, fraud­u­lent vot­ing and in­tim­i­da­tion.

“I don’t want to over­hype the po- ten­tial for this be­cause, for the most part, elec­tions are re­ally well run in the United States and many places don’t see these types of is­sues,” said Derek Wil­lis, a re­porter/de­vel­oper on the pro­ject. “But there is a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors we’re see­ing this year that . . . is a very dif­fer­ent thing than we’ve seen in the past.”

The pro­ject was con­ceived after a wave of Repub­li­can-spon­sored leg­is­la­tion that crit­ics con­tend makes it harder for vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties and the poor to vote.

Seventeen states have en­acted stricter voter ID laws. Vot­ing sta­tions in black ar­eas in Florida have been closed or moved and ad­vanced polls have been short­ened in Ohio.

Alabama shut­tered 31 driver’s li­cence of­fices, al­most all of them in African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, mak­ing it harder for peo­ple to ob­tain ID needed to vote. Ge­or­gia proac­tively purged 372,000 vot­ers from the rolls, re­port­edly send­ing court sum­mons to black vot­ers de­mand­ing they ap­pear be­fore a judge and prove they main­tain a valid ad­dress. But Democrats have been chal­leng­ing these changes in court and have suc­ceeded in rolling many of them back.

North Carolina’s stricter voter ID laws that were in place for the pri­maries have been struck down by the Supreme Court. Now, elec­tion vol­un­teers are be­ing trained on the new rules and signs stat­ing “No photo ID needed to vote” are sup­posed to be dis­played at vot­ing sta­tions.

“This will be the first elec­tion in many years in which large por­tions of the Vot­ing Rights Act aren’t ap­pli­ca­ble in places where they used to be,” Wil­lis said. “There is a re­spon­si­bil­ity on our part . . . to pro­tect the rights of cit­i­zens to vote.” Voter fraud On the other side of the aisle is a pro­ject premised on Trump’s con­tention the elec­tion is “rigged” and in­di­vid­ual voter fraud — a phe­nom­e­non that is sta­tis­ti­cally in­signif­i­cant — could af­fect its out­come. A group call­ing it­self the Vote Pro­tec­tors will de­ploy vol­un­teers on elec­tion day to con­duct exit polls in an ef­fort to “de­feat the ever-grow­ing cor­rup­tion within our elec­tion process.”

Vote Pro­tec­tors didn’t re­turn a re­quest for com­ment, but its web­site, StopTheSteal.com, ex­plains the pro­ject is based on “a uni­formed exit poll that Vote Pro­tec­tors will con­duct at ev­ery polling place in Amer­ica, to en­sure con­tin­u­ous in­tegrity through­out the demo­cratic process.”

The tac­tic hear­kens back to a 1981 elec­tion in New Jersey, where the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee re­cruited a “Na­tional Bal­lot Se­cu­rity Task Force” of vol­un­teers wear­ing arm bands — and some­times hol­stered firearms — to mon­i­tor the vote. The Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee sued the next year and won a court or­der pro­hibit­ing this kind of voter in­tim­i­da­tion that re­mains on the books to­day.

But Trump’s cam­paign isn’t bound by that or­der (though the DNC is su­ing the RNC say­ing it’s il­le­gally help­ing Trump) and Roger Stone, who was in­volved in the New Jersey elec­tion 35 years ago, is openly or­ga­niz­ing the Vote Pro­tec­tors.

The pro­ject has al­ready reg­is­tered more than 2,500 “exit pollers,” whose re­sults will be com­piled in an on­line re­sults map.

It’s a fa­mil­iar touch that closely re­sem­bles the red and blue maps peo­ple are used to see­ing on TV, only this one is ti­tled “pop­u­lar vote (ci­ti­zen exit polls).”

JIM WIL­SON/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Two projects with com­pet­ing vi­sions about elec­tion rig­ging will use web plat­forms to re­port sus­pected ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.

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