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November 06, 2006

VoterStory.org – What is the Story?

Update: Many of the questions I had when I first posted this have been answered.  I’ve made marked corrections below.  A full new story on this topic is here.

Was writing an election eve post asking everyone – especially the technically adept – to keep a close watch on voting machine this election day.  I’d heard about something called VoterStory.org and a widget you can put on your website to enable people who see anything which appears to be a voting irregularity to complain and was doing the hacking necessary to get the javascripts into the sidebar of Fractals of Change.  But a closer look at the VoterStory.org website convinced me that I should NOT ask my readers to fill out this form until much more information about VoterStory.org, their affiliates, and the intended use of the information is available.


As you can see, there’s a lot of personal information requested here.  It’s not inappropriate information – there has to a way to follow up on a complaint; but you should never give information like this unless you know whom it’s going to and how it’s going to be used.

The disclosure policy statement on the VoterStory.org website says:

“By providing information, you consent to and authorize VoterStory.org (and its affiliates), and the voter protection organizations with which VoterStory.org may share such information, to disclose your identity and the other information provided by you and to use your story, including your identity, in any manner VoterStory.org and/or such other organizations deem appropriate in connection with the protection of voter rights.”

Nowhere on the website that I can find (and I’ve looked hard) does it say who the “voter protection organizations” are nor does it identify the “affiliates” whom you are authorizing to share your information.  I’ve been told that a list of affiliated and information-receiving organizations will be posted on the NewStory.org website later today (Monday).  Look for it.There are no guideline on what they would deem “appropriate” uses of your story or your identity. 

Under these circumstanceUntil you know who is going to receive it, you should NOT provide the requested information.  If you’re a blogger, unless you know more than this, you should NOT ask your readers to fill out this form.

It would be great if this is legit.  We DO need a poll watching effort.  But it must be above suspicion itself.  For the last five hours I’ve been trying to get more information about VoterStory.org (that’s not a lot of time but it’s the eve of election eve.)

Here’s what I’ve tried and what little I’ve learned.

I started by Googling VoterStory.  Got lots of reposts of their press release and a few pointers to it but no new information.

I posted my questions on the VoterStory.org blog.  Just got a response a few minutes ago:

“VoterStory.org is working with People for the American Way's Election Protection project to respond to issues as well as several other national and local organizations that are monitoring election issues. We will try to post a complete list shortly.”

No list has been posted yet but they have answered my questions more fully.

The press release says:  “Development of the VoterStory Widget was made possible because of the support of Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, and the Open Society Institute.”  I searched the websites of each of these organizations and got no hits on “voterstory”. Note that this does NOT mean that they didn’t fund them; they may have under some other name.  It just means that I can’t verify the funding. Ford has verified this funding both for themselves and the other two organzations.

I called the two numbers in the press release and the cell phone of Rob Stuart, President of EvolveStrategies, the political consulting organization which actually put out the press release.  I also emailed Stuart.  No responses yet.Rob and I have talked and exchanged email.  More in this post.

EvolveStrategies works mainly with liberal organizations.  I wouldn’t feel any differently if they worked with mainly conservative organizations.  We all have a stake in an election which is fair and is perceived of as fair.  But they need to provide a complete list of who their affiliates are and whom they’re sending the information to.

I did verify that a Geri Mannion who is quoted in the release does actually work for Carnegie Corporation (by looking at their website).  I wrote her to ask whether Carnegie had funded this effort and what oversight they exercised.  No response yet.

I wrote some friends with better press credentials than me.  They did respond but didn’t have more information.

Here’s what I think we need to know:

  1. Who are the affiliates of VoterStory.org?
  2. To what organizations will data be sent?
  3. How long will data be kept?
  4. Where is the data being kept?
  5. Roughly, how is the data being safeguarded?
  6. Will any commercial use of the date be made?
  7. What are the guidelines for use of the data?

Sounds like I’m asking for a lot just to put a widget on my blog; but my first responsibility is to make sure I’m not asking you to send personal information to an unsafe place.

I’ll be in the air a lot tomorrow but will do my best to post updates as I get them.  Was happy to be able to add the partial response I just received from their website.  I hope they’ll answer the remaining question completely and that I can put the widget up (I’ve got it working) but need to know much more first.

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» In search of VoterStory.org info from Kempton's blog
Electronic voting machine can be a source of serious problems in the upcoming US mid-term election. The security expert Bruce Schneier has written on the related issues here, here, and here (a neat technical idea). My friend Tom has been trying his bes... [Read More]


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