Violence as an Epidemic and Voter Suppression in the Age of Liberation Technology

Illustration by João Fazenda.

By: Cassandra Cronin

Joseph Bock’s session on “Violence as a Public Health Challenge” provided a new lens through which to view violent conflict and possible ways to alleviate it. Looking at conflict through the “Cure Violence” model created by Epidemiologist Gary Slutkin (interrupt transmission, reduce highest risk, change community norms) serves as a great opportunity to look at mind-boggling issues in a different light. Also, Slutkin’s article “Violence as a Disease” takes it a step further and looks as violent conflict as a public health issue to argue that the “-issue of violent behavior is much broader and deeper than current law enforcement, firearm control, and mental health debates may suggest. If we want to reduce violence in our local and global communities, we must acknowledge that it is predictable and preventable.” Take gun violence for instance. If gun violence is broader and deeper than current law enforcement, firearm control, and mental health issues, then what is really the root cause of the violence? What structures are responsible? And what can we do to change those structures?

Our discussion of liberation technology, a term coined by Larry Diamond to include “any form of information and communication technology (ICT) that can expand political, social, and economic freedom,” also provided a new method through which to enact change. I was on the side of the room that researched the Ushahidi technology, which was a website first utilized to monitor the 2017 Kenya election. Eyewitness reports of violence surrounding the elections were collected and put on google maps to determine when and how people’s votes were being suppressed. I was so intrigued to find out that the technology had already been used in the U.S.—specifically in partnership with Obama’s 2012 campaign technical team. The technical team used Ushahidi to compile data when someone had an issue voting. This included instances of voter suppression, voting locations running out of paper ballots, and voter machines glitching or not working. The technology detected spikes in certain areas, and the technical team was able to use the data to persuade a judge to rule to keep certain polling locations open longer in four different states. This allowed thousands of additional people to exercise their right to vote.

We talk about using these technologies to monitor elections in Kenya, Mozambique, and Nigeria, but campaigns in the U.S. need to continue using these technologies to detect and counter voter suppression that occurred in the 2016 presidential elections and the 2018 midterm elections. I come from a state that’s had the most contested elections including congress and gubernatorial races. I’ve seen and experienced, first-hand, how this is a real issue effecting real people. I was one of the 107,000 people removed from the voter rolls in Georgia without notification in 2018, and I’m also the daughter of a voter of color in a swing county who couldn’t vote in Georgia’s 2016 presidential primaries because her polling location (one that had been the same for many years) changed without notification. These technologies should be widely used at the local and federal level to ensure people’s right to vote is protected.

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