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'It's a little bit like Yelp, for democracy'

John D. Sutter, CNN
MyFairElection.com aggregates reports of wait times and other issues at polling places.
MyFairElection.com aggregates reports of wait times and other issues at polling places.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • My Fair Election collects ratings on polling places
  • A few groups are crowdsouring election monitoring
  • Video the Vote wants people to live stream videos from polling locations
  • A Harvard group warns citizen journalists to know local laws

(CNN) -- In Florida, some early-voting lines were longer than those for the new iPhone. In New Jersey, officials are allowing those displaced by Superstorm Sandy to vote via e-mail and fax. And a bitterly partisan presidential election is expected to be close.

So it makes sense that people would be extra concerned about potential irregularities at polling places Tuesday.

A few groups are using the Internet to urge people to document their experiences at the polls. See something abnormal, such as long lines, voter intimidation or combative volunteers? There are a few online venues where you can report it.

One of the most promising is My Fair Election, a site from Archon Fung, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. The site encourages voters to rate their polling place experience -- from one to five stars -- and detail any problems.

"It's a little bit like Yelp for democracy," Fung says in a YouTube video about the project. "Just as Yelp and Amazon allow people to rate restaurants and products, My Fair Election will allow voters to rate their polling place after they vote."

A national map on the site shows average wait times by state. As of late morning on Election Day, 379 reports had come in, he says. But Fung expects many, if not most, of the ratings to be filed online at the end of the working day. Before the project launched, he indicated he wanted to see 10,000 ratings filed by the public.

CNN has tools for detecting and reporting voter disenfranchisement, too. The network has a "voter irregularities hotline" (800-CNN-NEWS) and e-mail address (votewatch@cnn.com). You can report issues by texting 55333. Type "CNN" and a space before entering your info. File a photo or video to CNN iReport. Or, finally, send messages to CNN on Twitter by tagging them #CNNVoteWatch.

A site called Video the Vote is encouraging citizen journalists to take their smartphones with them to the polls and "be prepared to ... document what is happening and then share that content on your YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or Ustream."

The group is collecting info from the hashtag #VideoTheVote.

Its site has state-by-state reports collated from social media, including information about reported long lines in Florida on Tuesday morning.

Would-be election monitors should be cognizant, however, of state laws about filming and photographing at polling places, says Harvard's Citizen Media Law Project.

"Photography and video can be critically important to document the election process and to preserve a record of any procedural improprieties and interference with voter rights," the group says on a page dedicated to "Documenting the Vote 2012." "At the same time, however, voting is a very private matter, and attempts to record at the polling place are subject to strict regulation to safeguard voter privacy, protect against voter intimidation, and to ensure the proper functioning of the voting process."

The group published a helpful list of state laws on the topic.

Fung, from the My Fair Election site, says all of these efforts could lead to a more detailed understanding of what goes on at the polls on Election Day. It's important to document the good as well as the bad, he says, so that a national picture emerges.

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