There was a lot of talk this election season about access to voting -- which is one reason Karen Suhaka, who runs a Denver-based online research company, decided to collect voter-driven data on the performance of polling sites across the country. Her website, MyFairElection.com, cataloged reviews from coast to coast, where voters rated polling places and vented about some of the worst disasters on November 6.
Since the results of the election came in last Tuesday night, Suhaka has been analyzing her own data on the actual process of the election, based on reviews collected through her website, which she created just a few months earlier.
MyFairElection.com came out of a Denver hackathon over the summer where web developers and programmers got together and collaborated on new projects.
"There's lots of places [online] where you could go look up polling places and lots of places to report problems. That's all good," says Suhaka, the founder and president of LegiNation Inc., a Denver company that does online tracking and research about legislation. "But I'm a data girl. I'm a math girl. And I wanted to collect this data on the polling places.... I wanted to show wait times across the country and start to measure that so everybody knows they are being held accountable."
She realized there was nothing like My Fair Election out there -- no site that would actually give voters a platform to comment on their experiences and also provide useful data to a single source that could analyze and extract trends.
"I think people want to know...if your line is longer or shorter," she says. "You want to think that by reporting this, it'll get better.... I don't know how, without collecting this information, polling places are going to get better."
In that way, voters could essentially become "citizen election monitors" by signing up at My Fair Election, telling others about their voting experience and offering a number ranking on the polling site, which Suhaka could then aggregate into maps.
Since the site is very new, Suhaka didn't do a great deal of publicity around it, but Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist -- who had actually inspired Suhaka to build the site at a conference -- helped promote My Fair Election, which drove some traffic to the site. In addition, the website got mentions during election day through CNN and MSNBC, says Suhaka.
In total, MyFairElection.com collected around 1,200 reports from across the country. That isn't enough to be very statistically meaningful, Suhaka admits, but she believes the data still created a useful pool of information that she was able to map and analyze.
Here's a map Suhaka created of the number of reviews she collected from different states. And here's a map of average star ratings, from 1 to 5: This map shows the average wait times at polling sites.
Continue for more findings from My Fair Election and details on Colorado's election. One interesting trend Suhaka noted across the country: The length of wait times did not necessarily correlate with star ratings. This is because people's reviews often had to do with their perceptions of the efficiency at the polling site: If the line moved fast and the polling site appeared to be functioning smoothly, then voters gave it a good rating -- even if the experience took a long time.
"If it seemed like a mess -- chaos, disorganized -- people's level of frustration was very high," she says. "But if the long lines were moving as fast as they [could]...people were excited about the turnout."
She adds, "They said, 'It's great to see all my neighbors...[voting] in such an important election.'"
Across the country, about four out of five people said they had an okay experience, which she said was a positive sign. She expects that the data generally skews negative, since users logging reviews are more likely to be the ones stuck on long lines who want to vent.
But some of the bad experiences were really bad and pretty alarming, she says.
Notably, there were around twenty reviewers across the country who wrote that they didn't end up voting, either because lines were too long or they had issues with IDs. Across the country, My Fair Election also collected reports of difficulties with parking at polling sites.
"I was just surprised to see how many people showed up to vote and didn't end up voting," she says.
In Colorado, her site collected a total of 26 reviews -- not enough to make any meaningful conclusions. But the ratings were generally positive, which she thinks probably has to do with the existence early voting. The longest waits were 45 minutes, sixty minutes and 100 minutes, but the vast majority were twenty minutes and under.
There were also several complaints related to IDs in Colorado, with one voter complaining that a poll worker didn't know the rules and tried to turn people away who had correct forms of identification, while another user noted that one site was allowing people to vote without checking IDs at all. These were the concerns that drew competing poll-watching and election-monitoring groups to sites throughout the state last week.
As Scott Gessler, the state's chief election officer, noted to us on election day, Colorado's election generally went smoothly, except for one site in Aurora that had fairly long waits. This is especially true relative to some other states across the country that had long lines throughout and much more high-profile controversies related to voter access.
While she didn't collect as much data as she'd like, Suhaka hopes to continue to build the site and make it a more powerful tool for upcoming elections -- one that could really be used to pressure polling sites and officials to run better elections.
"If people report this...and I'm publishing it...everyone's gonna see it," she says. "Maybe that'll provide motivation they need to do a better job. I'm just trying to hold people accountable."
Ultimately, she'd like My Fair Election to function as a real-time tool that could yield improvements while the elections are in progress.
"I would love for some of these reports to get into people's hands as the problems are happening," she says.
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