Earlier today, I spent an hour or so Telling outside a poll station on behalf of a friend who’s standing in a local election. Tellers are those party reps (though not strictly so, in my case…) who grab the poll card numbers of folk who’ve voted so that when evening strikes, any folk who promised to vote for you who haven’t turned out can be bundled into the back of a car and driven to the polling station. Or something like that.
The Telling process itself is paper based, scribbling down numbers of voters (or a line to show a vote from an unknown person) as they enter or leave the polling station. (I asked the other Tellers whether the form was to wait until the voter left the polling station, so as not to be seen as attempting to unfairly influence voters on the way into the station. One said he had been originally “trained” to do just that, but the retired Conservative lady tellers seemed to prefer grabbing the number on the way in…)
So I stood there for an hour, writing down numbers on a piece of paper… (I also annotated some of the marks with a simple clock face showing the approximate o’clock of when the vote was cast, just because…; (the Telling sheet instructions advised starting collections from each new hour on a fresh sheet, to give an idea of hourly turnout)).
Just before I went out, I spent all of 2 mins creating a Google form that would capture the voter number information (plus optional info – I’ve no idea what that might be? Maybe definite knowledge of how the voter claimed to be voting or have voted?):
Grabbing the shortcode link for the form meant it was on my phone and available for recording numbers in electronic form… (It also struck me that it should be quite easy to let folk submit numbers to somewhere via a text message; so for anyone with unlimited free texts, there’d be no reason not to send in voter numbers to either a local or national collection point, maybe with sender number reconciled back to a particular ward or polling station?) I didn’t use this “app” in the end, (are there data collection/protection issues with regard to shoving this info into a Google Spreadsheet, for example?), but there was no technical reason why it couldn’t have been used to collect this data in real time.
So what else came to mind? Gaining access to the electoral roll allows (I think) the domicile of voters to be identified by poll number, at least to the street level; which means that it would be possible to generate a crude heat map, in real time, of where votes had been cast from.
Another part of the jigsaw: when canvassing, I believe the theory is that candidates capture the details of voters who might vote their way, so that they can be knocked up (or whatever the phrase is!) if it turns out that by a particular time they don’t appear to have voted (as recorded by the Tellers). Again, this seems to be a paper based activity, although it would be trivial to capture this information, along with exact address or lat/long details, with an app, and feed that info back to a local or national data collection point.
When I mentioned in chatting to the other Tellers that it would be trivial to put tells onto a rough map, the response was: “but why?” My first thought was: well why not, it’s not hard….?! Then followed by the thought: why not “demap” markers? If you have built up a map of possible friendly votes in pre-poll canvassing through a 2 minute to create app, every time one of your voters turns out you could remove their marker from the map (or change the shade of their marker). That way you’d have an at a glance view of where you needed to go encouraging voters out.
So… would the be a Good Thing to do or not? Or would it be a bit creepy? Is capturing this sort of data in this sort of way legal? Does it infringe on areas governed by the Data Protection Act, or electoral regulations?
PS Hmmm… what would be really handy would be a DIFF spredsheet formula that would generate a list of items that appear in one column that donlt appear in another column. If you know of one, or an easy way of achieving this in a spreadsheet, please post a comment below letting me know how ;-)