A number of factors that could affect the election next week aren't captured by those maps that break the country down into red, blue, "leaning," and tossup states: whether, for example, polling stations are equipped to handle the anticipated heavy crowds (early voters in Florida have had to wait in line for as long as four hours); how many prospective voters' credentials are challenged; how those challenges are handled; and whether voting machines somehow go wacko, creating a 2008 variant on those infamous "butterfly ballots" of 2000.
The voting process, after all, has once again become an issue this year: Republicans have charged that Democrats and their allies have stooped to voter-registration fraud in order to bolster their chances, while Democrats counter that what's really going on is that the Republicans want to deter young, first-time, and minority voters from voting.
Enter MyFairElection, an online resource that will track voting conditions across the country on November 4. It's a project overseen by Archon Fung, a professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School, in collaboration with ABC News. Fung and ABC are asking voters from every state to register at myfairelection.com. After they've -- that is, you've -- cast your ballot next Tuesday (or sooner), you can then log on again and report how your experience was: one to five stars, plus a few comments about specifics. If you've registered in advance, you can also submit your ratings via email (perhaps live from the scene, from your Blackberry or Palm).
MyFairElection will take all that information and create what it's calling a "weather map" of polling conditions throughout the country; ABC will monitor any storm fronts during its election-day coverage. Participants in MyFairElection can also agree to be contacted by phone -- that part's optional -- for a follow-up investigation of any problems that arise.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.