Professor Unveils Poll Review Website

In the new online social media world, when gastronomes explore a new restaurant, they might enter a review on Yelp.com. Now, MyFairElection.com, a website founded by Harvard Kennedy School professor Archon Fung, allows voters to do a similar thing: review their experiences at the polls.

On the site, voters can rate their polling experience on a five-star scale; these reviews will chronicle general voter satisfaction.

Voters can note polling offices for broken machines, voter intimidation, and wait times. Fung said he hopes the website, which launched Oct. 17, will improve voter experience and increase voter participation across the U.S.

“I got my motivation from looking at the 2000 election—how close it was and the dispute over whether people even got the basic right to vote,” said Fung, who calls MyFairElection the “Yelp for Democracy.”

“You would think that in 2012 the quality of the democracy would allow everyone to vote very easily,” he said.

Earlier this year, Fung worked with Hollie Russon-Gilman, a graduate student in the government department, to revamp the website from its initial version in 2008.

Russon-Gilman said she was inspired to help with the project, after some states passed increased requirements for voter identification, a regulatory shift that experts have said might disenfranchise some voters.

“This can make it very difficult to know the proper documentation to bring,” she said.

With MyFairElection, voters can report such problems; this feedback will be available to other voters and anyone else who requests it, including state and local officials, journalists, citizen activists, and party representatives.

Voters can also anonymously provide comments or submit pictures of their polling place, which are available to the public. The results are compiled in real-time to create a map showing the quality of voting experiences for each region.

Karen Suhaka, founder and president of LegiNation, is optimistic that the information collected by MyFairElection will encourage election officials to make improvements.

LegiNation is one of the organizations that supported the development of the website.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to compile a list of do’s and don’ts that we can share, as well as make some introductions for the good people to mentor the less successful people,” she said. “I also think that just knowing they are being watched, measured, and reported on will help.”

Looking ahead, Fung said he hopes his website will inspire other people to expand the project in future elections to reach the maximum number of voters possible. “I hope we will actually have a good idea of the quality of election administration all over the United States,” Fung said.

Since the website’s launch in mid-October, the site has received roughly 1,000 visitors who have given feedback.

“It has been overwhelmingly positive so far,” Suhaka said. “It’s something people really think should exist.”

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