Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It's Super Tuesday!

Well, not in Johnson County, actually, but it is Tuesday and a good time for the topical kind of posts that I've said I'll do occasionally on Tuesdays.

With it being Super Tuesday, there's no shortage of media coverage related to elections, including the obligatory jabs at e-voting:  a write-up of an Internet hack from two years ago (I'm sure I'll get into the white paper that's included in a future post) and one forwarded to me today by my favorite former election office employee who lives in Ohio.

Expect a full onslaught, by the way, of new voting machine articles at the end of September.  That's when these articles tend to harvest.

More importantly, there were also a couple of articles today related to social media.

The first was in USA Today, an article that reminded me of callers in 2005 and 2006 who were certain that exit polls were 100 percent reliable and, thus, determined that the Ohio presidential results and the 2004 election were stolen by the same voting machine company we use.

We'll get into polling later this year, when I describe how it's done in Johnson County, and I'm sure you will conclude that such polling is 100 percent UNreliable.

But the big article today was in the Wall Street Journal and didn't mention elections.  It was a story about Twitter use by members of juries.

Our election workers at the polling place share one thing with members of a jury.  We want our workers sequestered, immune to the media coverage of the day.  But here in 2012, we also have to worry that they could contribute to the media coverage of the day.

As sure as today is Super, you can count on a specific question being asked during election worker training:

What do we do about people with cell phones?

Well, who doesn't have a cell phone and, for that matter, who actually talks on the phone anymore?  We don't ban cell phones but we do ban disruptions, so if Billy Bluetooth comes in while on a conference call, we'll ask him to hop off the call and he almost always does.

We have high-school students working as election workers and we don't let them keep their ear pods from their phones in while they work because it looks like they'd just rather be any place other than at the polls.

But we don't fight their texting.  We don't ban texting, but we do ask that they dial it down, limiting the texts to things like, "Mom, can you bring me a jacket?"

But last Saturday, when I discussed our short-code polling place lookup by cell phone, half of our supervising judges immediately pulled out iPhones to try the lookup.  All of our supervising judges have cell phones without exception, and most are smartphones.

This demographic that supposedly isn't computer savvy is savvy, and they are being followed by a group of middle-aged election workers who are used to checking their email on the minute.  We can't fight that, so the "dial it down," message now extends to all election workers.

But our workers come to us without background checks or without any history.  Most volunteer for the right reasons but some have agendas.

They might want to ensure laws are followed at the polls, for instance, and that's an activism we embrace.  They may want to know how secure our election is.  Swell, again.

But we don't need any worker tweeting about the day, or, worse, describing the voters or what they think is happening at the polls.

Photos from within the polling place tweeted out--why that's a loss of control at the polling place that would make an election administrator break out into a cold sweat.  A Facebook status update by an election worker seems almost a certainty.

We've spent the last few years thinking about the technology our voters might bring into the polling place.  This election will be the first where we lay down specific rules about the use of social media on election day by our workers.

I'm a big critic of organizations that develop social media policies because usually they aren't forward-thinking policies on how social media will be used, but rather employee policies that restrict who can access social media.  There isn't enough thought devoted to how the employees can be harnessed as social media evangelists of the organization.

I've mentioned before that our election workers are influentials and we want them spreading the word in any appropriate way possible to help promote voter participation.

In this case, though, a social media acceptable use policy is shaping up as a must for workers while at the polls on election day in 2012.