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Keeping the election honest

There’s an important use for the Obama campaign’s text-message database that’s not being discussed, and it’s a way to help prevent the Republicans from stealing the election.

We know that Barack Obama’s campaign has done a much better job at getting people’s cell-phone numbers, from his various text-message initiatives (including the contest at the DNC to see which state would send in the most text messages).

We don’t know what, exactly, they plan to do with them. They used them to announce his pick of Joe Biden for veep, but it’s been pretty quiet since.

My guess - and it’s not an earth-shattering one - is that the campaign will send out a huge blast text message on Election Day, reminding people to go to the polls and vote.

But they need to go one step further, to help ensure the validity of the voting - in that text reminding people to vote, they need to ask people to text the campaign back, to confirm that they did vote for Obama.

That way, the campaign will have a rough tally of at least a minimum number of people who cast their votes for Obama in each state. (Sure, some folks will have area codes from states other than where they live, but this is not an exact count.)

The election is likely to end up very close in several key states around the country. Imagine if the Obama campaign had its own rough count of how many people there voted for him. It wouldn’t be an exit poll, nor actual ballots, but a minimum number of people who said they voted for Obama. This will definitely be an underestimate of the votes Obama should get - not everyone who votes for Obama will have gotten a text in the first place, and among those who do get a text, not everyone will reply.

Now imagine that the official ballot count ends up saying that fewer people voted for Obama than texted the Obama campaign to say they did - or even that the official results are very close to the number of those who texted.

Rather than being stuck trying to guess - based on exit polls or other demographic data - whether the count is likely valid or not, the Obama campaign will have its own independent data.

And that data will include information allowing the campaign to actually contact individual voters to let them know what’s going on - to get them involved in the effort to challenge the results, if need be, or to take any other action that might be appropriate.

This may not be an important move in many (or even most) states, but in some battleground states it could make a vital difference.

And of course the McCain campaign (or any third-party campaign) could use the same tactic to ensure accuracy in voter counts, if only they had a database anything like the size of Obama’s.

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