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Election app targets voter suppression fears

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Election monitors and ordinary voters can document and transmit reports of possible voting irregularities via a new mobile app built by the left-leaning tech firm Revolution Messaging and connected to the voter file maintained by the political-data firm Catalist.

The Election Protection app is available to anyone, and isn't explicitly partisan, but its likely audience will be Democratic activists who volunteer as election monitors. New voter-ID laws in several states, including key battlegrounds such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, have raised concerns about possible attempts at voter suppression and intimidation, as well as the issue of voters dropped in statewide purges of election lists.

The Election Protection app includes a complaint form that directs reports to the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which runs a nationwide toll-free hotline on Election Day to review voting problems. The app has a click-to-call function for those with "urgent issues."

Eric Marshall, manager of legal mobilization at the Lawyers Committee, says that this year there is "more confusion than in the past about what voters need to know." The group received more than 250,000 calls to its hotline in 2008, and if early trends are any indication, Marshall says, that number will be higher this year.

Poll monitors working directly for the Lawyers Committee won't be using the app, but they are pushing it to a coalition of 100 organizations that do their own election monitoring. United Steel Workers, Common Cause, the American Federation of Teachers, Human Rights Campaign, Mi Familia Vota, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Rock the Vote, and Campus Compact are some of the organizations that are actively promoting the app to their members.

The information collected on the app, said Revolution Messaging CEO Scott Goodstein, is "time-stamped, geo-tagged, and coming in from somebody's cell phone. That's pretty good evidence to use in a possible court case."

In addition to giving volunteers a hotline to the Lawyers Committee, the app pulls in voter registration data maintained by Catalist, allowing users to check their status. Voters can look up their polling place and check local voting rules, including voter identification requirements and registration deadlines. Unregistered voters can begin the application process via a connection to Rock the Vote.

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