Before I begin, I need to give an ancestral shout out to Mrs. Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Ida's career included being an homemaker, teacher, writer, pamphleteer (pre-Internet print based blogger) and journalist.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett wrote about her experiences of living in her time. Ida wrote about social and political injustice when mainstream media would not touch the subject. She was not afraid to raise the BS card on suffragette peers who exhibited racist acts in the name of equality.
Ida Bell Wells-Barnett is one of many women who made it possible for us to even contemplate recording and documenting our experiences on November 4, 2008.
Be Clear On Your Purpose
There is no right or wrong was to document an election. I would like to suggest that you take some time to figure out what you really want to do. Here are some options:
- Recording Your Decision to Vote. That can be as simple as a blog post, an audio recording or a short video describing why you selected the candidate, the person that you believed would serve the country best or what was the deciding factor in your process.
- Talking With Your Children/Grandchildren. Let them ask you questions on why is this such a big deal? Why do you want them to go with you to the polls? If older children have participated in the Weekly Reader election then engage them in a dialog (hopefully on video) as to how they came to their decisions and why you came to yours. No video camera, no problem you can shoot photos and record audio and then upload to one of the many slide show/presentation services.
- No Kids? No problem. Perhaps you might like to stop by your local polling place and just observe. Is there a long line? How far does it go back? Can you time how quickly people are entering and exiting the polling place? What is the mood of the crowd? You can do this via paper, texting, still photos or video.
- Recording Your Vote. This is the diciest activity of the day. This really depends on where your live, and whether or not you are legally permitted to have a camera inside of the polling place.
- Protecting the Process Against Error and Fraud. This is the second most risky activity. Election fraud can mean an overly aggressive observer from another political party, machine malfunctions, poll workers giving incorrect information or voter intimidation.
Election Laws & Your Right To Photography/Videography
With new technology there is a collision between federal, state and local election laws and your right to record your voter participation. I am not a lawyer. Each state and each county has different rules. When in doubt check with your local election office. These are just guidelines and avenues of assistance from respected sources.
Let's start with a video How To Video Your Vote - A Legal Primer
Citizen's Media Law Project has extensive information about elections laws and your behavior. You want to take a look at the State and Local Codes page, it will give you an idea of what you can do near the polls on election day. Californians, pay attention to your state section. You cannot use your camera to intimidate or stop someone from voting but it implies that you can video. Not so fast. Keep reading. You might not be able but then again check out Secretary's Bowen letter to the troops about voter questions about Video The Vote.
A must read is Burt Krages' The Photographer's Rights flyer. Most polling places have a video or photo restriction of between 100 and 150 feet. If you are at the 151 foot however snap away. If you are on a public side walk recording a news worthy event there shouldn't be any problems.
For example, taking photos of people in long lines is ok, but take a specific individual's photo and publishing it on you blog/web site is not ok unless you have a photo release signed by the subject.
This is especially important if you have any kind of advertising on your site. This is an example of an Adult Release by the National Professional Photographer's Association. You can modify it by added your blog or e-mail contact info. Your subject gets a copy and you keep a copy.
For vloggers planning to do interviews you could start the video by asking the name of your subject and permission to record the interview. Having a signed release is better.
Texting, Cell Phones, Digital Still Cameras and Camcorders, Oh My...
Texting/SMS/Twitter you should be ok. Come up for air once in a while to know what is going on but for the most part there isn't precise laws against twitter in a polling place. If your tweets become disruptive or you are impeding the process of voting however you will get the boot. On the other hand, if you do observe a problem you can use Twitter to contact Election Protection, you can get more detail at the website.
Cell phones and specifically cell phones and PDAs with camera/camcorder mode. Be cool. Don't take photos of poll workers or other voters. Wait until you are in the booth. Should you happen to press the photo button that is between you, the ballot and your camera. This is illegal in North Carolina, by the way. You can't take a photo of the ballot. Not that it hasn't already been done.
It you happen to witness wrong doing you can call Our Vote at 1-866-687-8683 and report your observations.
Still Cameras/Camcorders, this is where you definitely have to check your state and local government position on cameras in the polling place. I will say the more small and unobtrusive equipment might not be notices as much as a fully grown camcorder. I'm thinking Xacti's, Flip Video and RCA Small Wonder. Leave your hi-definition baby home or in the backpack for outside.
Lastly, If you plan on participating with Video The Vote has information on guidelines of what you should and shouldn't be doing around voters and video recording tips on how to prepare and upload video to the various web hosts.
YouTube and PBS have partnered to Video Your Vote 2008 as a repository for user generated videos.
I know I jammed at lot of stuff in here but I don't want anyone getting thrown out of their polling place unnecessarily. It is gonna be something to behold and I can't wait to see some of your photos, videos and reports on this most extraordinary day.
This post originally appeared on BlogHer where I am a Contributing Editor