2014-02-10

Co.Exist

This Drone Just Covered A Presidential Election

If we can use them to spy on people, surely we can use them for reporting.

Watch out, Beltway reporters. In the future, there will be no blithe observations tweeted from the backseat of press campaign buses. There will be no literary, gonzo attempts to follow the manic zig-zag of baby-kissing candidates. There will only be the drones.

Last week, El Salvadorian newspaper La Prensa Gràfica sent its proud new DJI Phantom 2 drone to check out the lines at different polling places during the country's recent presidential election. The quadrotor drone, which can zip up to a height of 2,300 feet and stay in the air for 25 minutes, according to Popular Science, captured scenes that were fairly tame and well-shot, from the look of the video.

As La Prensa Gràfica notes, drone journalism has been used to cover Brazilian protests, the Chilean election, and Peruvian roadwork. In 2011, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Matt Waite formed the Drone Journalism Lab, and the University of Missouri recently launched a drone journalism program this past year.

If we can kill and spy on people from the air, researching stories through our unmanned proxies (with proper ethical boundaries) seems like a natural development. But when it comes to elections, drones could be particularly useful. Last year, voters in the majority African-American precinct of River Oaks, Virginia, reported polling place wait times up to five hours—the inconvenience of which many chalked up to voter suppression. And that wasn’t an isolated incident. Former vice president Al Gore called long voting lines in Florida’s Dade and Brower counties "a direct descendant of the racist Jim Crow tactics that were used in the wake of the Civil War to prevent black people from voting."

Perhaps drone footage could help gather evidence in cases like these. But what about partisan drones? It’s not that far-fetched to imagine opposing political parties using drone information-gathering techniques. Perhaps it is far-fetched to imagine them physically duking it out in the airspace above polling places. The future: Who knows?

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