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You have an opinion, but do you have what it takes to be heard?

Zeba Khan
Toledo, Ohio

Zeba Khan

Voted out Nov. 23. I am a social media consultant for nonprofits. I have researched women and minority issues in the Muslim World, Islam in America and counterterrorism finance with the U.S. Treasury Department. ALL POSTS

Crowdsource the vote

Editor's note: Our five remaining pundit contestants showed off their blogging skills this week. Cast your vote for who should advance to the next round.

In Oct. 2004, I was canvassing to get out the vote in low-income and Section 8 housing developments throughout Toledo, Ohio. While I certainly don't doubt that both Bush and Kerry supporters were engaging in politically dubious activities during that presidential campaign, (especially in Ohio,) I was working with the Democrats and saw some pretty despicable tactics from the other side -- such as fliers plastered all over the Section 8 housing developments telling residents if they wanted to vote Democrat, they needed to go to their polling stations the day after Election Day to vote.

Fortunately for all of us, there were no major election controversies during last year's presidential election. But that lack of controversy has more to do with Obama's overwhelming victory rather than any particular improvements in the election process, and I suspect that the next time the country is very divided on who the president should be, we will again see the kinds of controversies we saw in 2000 and 2004.

What can we do to prevent that? With no real movement to overhaul the election process from the government, citizens of all political persuasions will have to take election monitoring into their own hands. Already, political candidates use supporters to check the polls to make sure they open on time and there are no irregularities. (I did that last year as a volunteer for the Obama campaign.)

But with all the latest tools in technology, regular citizens now have the capacity to organize themselves without the direction of any political candidate. And that is a great thing. During the election violence in Kenya last year, a small group of Kenyans decided they wanted to create a system by which to track and monitor election violence. The group created software they called Ushahidi ('testimony' in Swahili) that allows text messages to be mapped by time and location. Since then, the software has been used to help monitor elections across the world from Lebanon to India.

Ushahidi is an open source tool, meaning anyone can download it, adapt it, and use it. People have begun to use the software in a variety of ways. A program called, for example, has used Ushahidi software to track a range of medicine shortages across Africa.

This kind of open source crowdsourcing technology is the next step in empowering citizenry to be in charge of their election process, and I think it illustrates the natural progression of technology beyond the social networking tools the Obama campaign used so masterfully during the election.

To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, take a look at Clay Shirky's talk on how social media can make history:

Read more posts from this round. See what the judges have been saying. And cast your vote.

By Zeba Khan  |  November 12, 2009; 2:38 PM ET  | Category:  Round Two
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Zeba, what I like most about your work in this competition is the range you exhibit. Thus far, you've written on women and technology, stereotyping, social entrepreneurship, Detroit's economic situation, election monitoring and healthcare. Your work is rich with facts and as you've progressed through the rounds, you've learned to share more of your personal voice with the readers. I look forward to reading more from you.

Posted by: manray132 | November 23, 2009 3:57 AM
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Zeba - Why you have chosen to work solely for Muslim/Islamic causes, and not secular South Asian -American issues.

Posted by: Nusrat_1975 | November 20, 2009 2:15 PM
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Interesting concept, people power. Shows you have an open mind to new ideas. I enjoyed this, but I also think you were wrong to underplay the problems that existed during the last election.

Posted by: Stonebird | November 18, 2009 1:22 PM
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Excellent post by Zeba Khan. And well written... and most important: informative. I learned something. This is something that we in the US can learn from -- even if it is not indigenous. We CAN learn something from the rest of the world -- like universal healthcare.

Another point: Zeba points out how grassroots activism can shape political events. Technology can empower people to shake off the feeling of helplessness too often evident today when special interests with deep pockets can afford huge expense for the best Congress money can buy.

Posted by: petrucci | November 16, 2009 10:25 PM
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Does the Post moderate these comments? If so why did they allow mascmen7's outrageous lie that President Obama supported one of the Kenyan presidential candidates who promised to institute Sharia Law?

This is the kind of comment that I would expect on Yahoo not The Washington Post.

Posted by: JoeNavy65 | November 16, 2009 8:54 AM
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I don't see the problem with talking about the use of such technology in other countries. In fact, as Americans I think we need more of such discussion. Our education system, our healthcare system, our electoral system are in various states of disarray and looking around for good ideas to help us improve life for our citizens is exactly what we need at this stage. The discussion of other countries ties right into the video element of this post. It worked for me.

Posted by: manray132 | November 15, 2009 11:49 AM
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Zeba's honesty is very obvious plus for her article.

But just as blatant is the major mistake of taking detours to a foreign country (the topic of this article is not your knowledge of Foreign Affairs) for your examples.

The comment posted by INDEPENDENT THINKER 21 has the focus on this topic that I want to read about.

Adam of CA.

Posted by: AdamYoung2 | November 15, 2009 8:26 AM
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Author is unaware that Obama intrefered in his Kenya presidential elections by donating $1 million to Raila Odinga who promised to institute Sharia Law if elected. He lost so his Muslim supporters killed many Christians and burned down many churches until Kofi Anan got him appointed prime minister. Obama's community organizing at work and dumb Americans had no clue.

Posted by: mascmen7 | November 15, 2009 1:11 AM
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The video content was informative. I agree, this is an idea worth spreading. Why are we lagging?

Posted by: manray132 | November 14, 2009 6:38 PM
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I'm not ready to believe that we can improve the fairness of elections in the USA by emulating a Kenyan model for intervention in the process. Sorry. You lost me there.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | November 13, 2009 9:33 PM
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Interesting, informative.

Posted by: dotellen | November 13, 2009 3:07 PM
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The idea presented here is one that is desperately needed - in fact, something we needed a long time ago (no more hanging chads!). I'm glad that the technology now exists - we should've started putting it to use for our citizenry yesterday. It was quite informative for me to read about how other countries were putting it to use - that's not something that crosses my mind often. In fact, I'm a little embarrassed to say this but I didn't think people in the countries you mentioned, with the exception of India, were as tech savvy as they must be to use this technology in such a purposeful way. It's something obviously I am hoping to remedy - but I am not that knowledgeable about people in African or Arab countries. Thank you for the insight.

What I have enjoyed about your posts is that you're continually giving me something new to think about that adds to my knowledge base. I like to learn and you use your posts as teachable moments. Thanks, Zeba. I really want to see you continue through to the next round. You add a kind of "diversity" to this contest that I, for one, am not used to seeing.

Posted by: JennB1 | November 13, 2009 2:15 PM
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No major election controversiesin 2008?? No mention of Acorn and 72 registrations per person. Mickey Mouse on the rolls. Dead people voting in Indiana. Nine college students in Ohio using the thirty day residency law and voting twice. Obama's aunt (illegally in this country) donating $400 to a presidental candidate. Much more knowledge and or research needed to blog this article intelligently.

Posted by: independentthinker21 | November 13, 2009 2:03 PM
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I like the concept, but I'm not fond of how you executed it. I enjoyed your personal experiences in relation to the problem/discussion. But then you jumped in to election violence in Kenya, to monitoring elections from Lebenon to India, and how - finally - using the same software to track medicinal shortages in Africa.

"The kind of open source, crowdsourcing technology is the next step in empowering citizenry to be in charge of their election process, illustrates the natural progression of technology beyond the social networking tools the Obama campaign used...during the election". No, it really doesn't. You have not explained WHAT crowd sourcing, opensourcing technology is, or even how it related to the social networking campaigning done in 2008. There is no clear - or even any - connection where there should be.

If I were you, I would relate the "crowd sourcing, opensourcing" technology in ways that relates to your initial, personal narrative and blend that with some way it relates to ME (everyone else).

And - just to be clear - I purposely did NOT watch the accompany video on "how socila media can make history" for a few reasons:
1) That is your job, as a writer, to do; 2)If you can't fit all the info you need to in one post then it needs to be a multi-part topic;

Posted by: laurenmarie30 | November 13, 2009 11:53 AM
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Well, I don't know if this is more of the series by two of the columnists to link to videos, but at least this one was long enough that I could get something out of reading it, even though I don't do videos unless a friend I know sends them to me.

I admire her volunteering, giving two specific examples of her volunteering that we can emulate, and the software idea. I just wish she could have adapted the software idea to the U.S. specifically. I am glad she mentions the electoral misconduct that I too saw when I worked on the Kerry campaign, misconduct by Republicans and people against Kerry.

Posted by: Chicory | November 13, 2009 7:32 AM
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This is something I care about---a lot. I loved this post. Zeba Khan has typically written about matters I do care about, but for some reason, Zeba, I just can't get onto your style of writing. Maybe another format would work better. And I suspect you're one of those writers who needs a little more time to collect, organize, and present your thoughts than this particular forum provides.

Get another photo! The one I am looking at now comes across as quite dark, and you look a little timid and tentative. Your writing and skills are better and stronger than your pic would cause me to think.

The photo you run next to your byline is, to me, something like "curb appeal" in real estate. Whether it's fair or not, it's the first thing people see, and they will make judgments about you based on it.
What I get out of yours is that you're beautiful but maybe a little boring. And you are so much more than that. Good luck, Zeba. I hope to hear more from you elsewhere.

Posted by: martymar123 | November 13, 2009 7:32 AM
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I saw the same exact thing going on in the Motor City. Made us angry. Thanks for the Ushahidi link. Going to check it out.

Posted by: ralphie4 | November 13, 2009 2:29 AM
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Perhaps Obama won the last election in part by voter intimidation such as the Black Panthers did at one poling place in Philly. (see

American Idol voters vote early and often, so I am not really impressed by text 'monitoring' of elections. Disgruntled biased members of the losing party can text to give the impression there were irregularities. Video is harder to fake.

Posted by: Wiggan | November 12, 2009 9:52 PM
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Important issue, personal involvement, good observation we'll be in trouble next time an election is close. An issue of interest to youth, and a technology primarily they understand.

Good moral recommending others get involved, and showing them how. Looking for a way to avoid the danger before it arises is very wise.

Posted by: chucky-el | November 12, 2009 8:11 PM
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When did blogging become a salespitch for a specific product? You seem to assume your personal experience as a partisan campaign volunteer equates with expertise in the electoral process, quite a stretch. I also wonder about the bloggers in this competition(Zeba is not alone in doing this) relying on videos from others rather than their writing to make their points for them. I thought this was a writing competition, maybe I was misinformed.

Posted by: arnnyc | November 12, 2009 3:49 PM
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