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Watch the Vote on VoteWatch
By Kristen Philipkoski 
November 5, 2002

Voters on Tuesday don't have to wait for the pesky media to digest stories of suspicious goings-on at the polls.

A new website called VoteWatch will share voters' concerns in real time (or at least as soon as they can get home and log on).

Frustrated by the media's focus on dangling chads in 2000 while 50,000 voters in Florida were erroneously listed as felons and prevented from voting, Steven Hertzberg has launched VoteWatch as a "repository of voter complaints."

"VoteWatch.US is a new website allowing voters to register concerns about their vote immediately -- an important development, because by the time anybody catches most election errors, it's too late to remedy," said a press release from Hertzberg, who did not respond to interview requests.

The website provides a forum organized by state and topics of discussion. It's designed to allow voters to report issues regarding access to polls, intimidation, questionable vote counting and discrepancies in tabulation.

With so many close races in Tuesday's elections, and with the margin of Senate party control so slim, VoteWatch could act as a watchdog. With Voter.com and Citizens for True Democracy websites now defunct, it certainly fills a void.

Rashad Robinson, field director for the Center for Voting and Democracy, thinks grassroots efforts like VoteWatch are important at a time when citizens are skeptical of the election process.

The media don't always do the best job of uncovering voting problems and sometimes takes too long, he said. By the time issues bubble to the surface, especially when votes are being counted, it may be too late to take action.

"The media is not necessarily a great place to start as a filter, because they're looking for a story and looking for something sexy in many cases," Robinson said.

Although VoteWatch says the people behind the project are politically independent, sites that rely on input directly from the public can present objectivity problems, according to Poynter Institute faculty member Aly Colˆ„n.

The "media filter" is often key in revealing hidden biases, he said.

"Depending on the experience of the people involved in these sites, their own perspective, where their funding comes from, who they support, who they are trying to advocate for -- you have to have all that kind of information at hand in order for you to understand the agenda a particular site might have," Colˆ„n said.

Robinson agrees it's essential for sites like VoteWatch to remain nonpolitical for the public to consider them a credible source.

"The idea of giving people an opportunity to express concerns and complaints about what's happening at the polls is part of our democracy," Robinson said. "Giving people the opportunity to oversee what happens in their community is part of the process -- especially if it's done in a nonpartisan, nonpolitical way."


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