Friday, April 27, 2018

NC Voter Suppression Meets New Grassroots Technology Resistance

Voter Suppression has a New and Technologically Sophisticated foe in the Battleground State of North Carolina.

Like many Southern States, North Carolina is plagued by Voter Suppression Hijinks like Voter Gaging Operations improperly Kicking Disfavored Voters Off of the Poll Books. In 2016 alone, we know that Republicans succeeded in Removing Thousands of Voters of Color by this means in at least Three North Carolina Counties.

And more recently, every State in the Union faces the New Threat of State-sponsored Hackers, who could wreak Election Day havoc by Breaking into Antiquated Voter Registration Databases and doing damage, perhaps even Deleting the Voter Registrations of huge numbers of Voters. What happens if you show up at your Polling Place on Election Day only to have the Poll Worker behind the Sign-In Table inform you that there seems to be a Problem with your Voter Registration?

In North Carolina, it’s very likely that you’d be Disenfranchised. consigned to the Dead-End of Voting a “Provisional” Ballot, which Statistics reveal faces Discouraging Odds of ever being Counted. That’s exactly what happened to 60,000+ North Carolina Voters, more than 1 out of every 100 Voters, who showed up at the Polls on November 8th, 2016. It’s easy, and all too Common, to Dismiss Provisional Voters as merely the inevitable tail-end of the Bell Curve, Folks who are just too irresponsible to Register to Vote, or to keep their Voter Registrations Up-to-Date as they move to New Addresses or Change their Names. But both the Data and Tar Heel Voters Personal Stories paint a very different picture of the Typical Provisional Voter.

Because Grassroots Activists here are now filling this Leadership vacuum, rolling up our their sleeves to do what needs to be done to insure that each and every North Carolina Voter has an Equal Opportunity to have their Vote Counted in November of 2018 and beyond.

Insightus, the All-Volunteer Collaborative of Professional Data Scientists who style themselves as Data-Driven Activists has recently Teamed up with Ragtag, a similar Volunteer Collaborative of Progressive Software Engineers, to show North Carolina, and the World, the answer to that eternal feckless question, heywhaddayagonnado? Reg Watch, pronounced REJ-watch, could be the Answer. It’s a Free, Non-Profit, Non-Commercial, and Non-Partisan service every North Carolina Voter can Sign-Up for in just under a minute at their new website,

Reg Watch works a lot like the Credit Report-Monitoring Services you may be familiar with, except that what it Monitors for Problems is not your Credit Report, but rather your Official North Carolina Voter Registration Record. Viewed from the Ten-Thousand-Foot Level, it works something like this:

Reg Watch computers constantly compare Users’ Voter Registration Records today with the immediately Preceding Versions of their Records yesterday, on the lookout for Changes. Whenever they find a Change, they Analyze its Potential Consequences. Is this Change innocuous, or is it something that might compromise the User’s Right to Vote on Election Day? If the latter, their Computers send the User an Email Alert, providing with the precious gift of Time to Address their Voter Registration Problem well in advance of the Next Election. Time to Fight for your Right to Vote.

Kinds of Problems Reg Watch can Spot:

- If your Name is Purged from the Poll Books, You will instantly be Alerted.

- If Hackers Alter or Delete your Voter Registration Record, you will be Warned.

- If North Carolina Fails to Process your Voter Registration Application or your Change of Address in a Timely manner, you will get a Heads-Up.

- If there’s a Critical Error in your Voter Registration Data, Reg Watch will Catch it.

Reg Watch isn’t exactly rocket science, but their Development Team faced and solved numerous interesting problems along the way to making this Service a Reality. The State’s Data Files are notoriously plagued with Formatting Errors and Typos, and their Data Structure tends to change without Warning, so Insightus Data Scientists had to come up with some smart, fully Automated Data Cleaning and Validation Procedures to Compensate for the State Board of Elections’ chronic IT problems.

Likewise, the Computing Power required to Process and analyze 7 Million Voter Records each containing some 70 different fields, totaling nearly Half a Billion Data points, every Week isn’t exactly Cheap, at least by the Standards of an All-Volunteer Non-Profit, so Ragtag Engineers developed a Automated Means of Purchasing just enough Computing Power on the Cloud, on a Just-in-Time basis, thus keeping their Cost to deliver this Free Service within reach of their modest Operating Budget.

The browser-based Sign-Up App is designed to work well on Mobile Platforms such as Cellphones, to encourage Voter-Facing Organizations to Incorporate Reg Watch Sign-Ups into their Canvassing efforts and Voter Registration Drives.

2018 is a sort of shakedown cruise for Reg Watch, an opportunity to make sure it’s fully ready for the Big Game in 2020, by which time they hope to have at least half of North Carolina’s 7 Million Voters signed up, including even larger fractions of the Demographic Groups most at risk of Voter Suppression, such as College-age Voters and Voters of Color.

Also looking forward, in 2019 they plan to make Reg Watch’s Codebase and hard-won Learnings Freely available to capable Voting Rights Organizations in other States across the U.S., to enable them to quickly, easily, and inexpensively Sponsor similar Services on their own turf. They believe that every State needs its own Homegrown Organization delivering this Service to its own Citizens, because States vary wildly with respect to how they make their Voter Registration Data available, in what Forms, and how their Laws regulate Electoral Processes, and also because No Large Donors have yet stepped up to provide the kind of Funding it would take to Cover the Not-Inconsiderable Development and Operating Costs of a Nationwide Reg Watch Service.

If you’re a North Carolina Voter, please take a minute right now to Sign-Up for Reg Watch. When you do, you’ll not only be Defending your Right to Vote; you’ll also be sending a message to Donors, Partners, and those who are currently just watching from the sidelines.

If you’re not a North Carolina Voter, you’ll still find some interesting things on the NC-GoVote web site. They’re beginning to roll out some cool Data Visualization Widgets, starting with one that makes it quick and easy to follow Voter Registration Developments in this Key Battleground State from week to week, graphically breaking the Data down by County, Race/Ethnicity, and Political Party.

Check it out, but note that it is not yet Optimized for Mobile Devices; for the moment, visit the Widget on a Tablet, Laptop, or Desktop Computer.

Progressive Activists will no longer merely sit and wait while our Broken Governments do nothing to Defend Democracy. Today, concerned North Carolinians are doing it for Themselves.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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