Three 2012 election moments made possible by ubiquitous smartphones

Smartphones have forever changed the way elections happen in our country


That fundraiser video was almost certainly from a smartphone or, possibly, a Flip-style pocket camcorder. The lens is parked on what looks like a table, or possibly a bar, with a candle holder and water glass looming large in the foreground. Assuming fundraiser guests were held to the expectation that they would not be filming or recording the event, nobody would have dared drag a full-size camera into the event. But at most events these days, you just can’t take people’s smartphones from them. Even if you can, well, phones can be very small, and nobody pays $50,000 for the privilege of facing Threat Level Orange pat-downs.

Ballot machine failures, long lines are instantly provable

It’s one thing to hear somebody swear that their touchscreen voting machine refused to register a vote for Obama, tallying every touch for Romney instead. It’s another thing to see video of that vote refusal. It just so happened that a software developer was the one who first noticed the vote swap, and did his own troubleshooting to discover the tiny sliver of sensitivity that would register for Obama. The machine was later taken offline, “recalibrated,” and restored at the polling place. But without that developer shooting that video, the developer’s official response from his election official was: “It’s nothing to worry about, everything will be okay.”

In general, problems with long lines, touchscreen boxes, illegitimate ID requests, and other impediments are now easy to prove, even easier to share, and hard for people not to take seriously.

The old saying in journalism and public policy is that sunshine is the disinfectant—that exposing any data or policy to the light of day is going to make it inherently less susceptible to corruption and waste. In this year’s elections, and all the rest to come, smartphones are capturing a lot of light and refracting out to the public, to notable effect.

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