Crowdsource the vote
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 stopstockouts.org, 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: