Election Monitoring

Nigeria’s Innovations

Tablets for Nigerian International Observation

Nigerians went to the polls last month to determine their next president in a tightly contested election between sitting president Goodluck Jonathan and retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari. In support of democratic processes for these elections, NDI conducted an International Election Observation Mission and supported the work of a citizen observation mission with Nigerian partner organization the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG). On election day, NDI and TMG observed Nigerian citizens’ patience and strong commitment to the democratic process, and pursued strategic initiatives to share that story through innovations in digital information collection, data visualizations, and database development.

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Zambia Elections: Using Facebook for Targeted Messages

A special guest post by Phil Brondyke (@brondyke) from NDI’s Elections team.

Presenting the analysis of election day observation to the right audience is a critical component of citizen monitoring organizations’ outreach strategies, and one of which NDI has provided technical assistance to partners on for decades. In some countries where NDI works, Facebook has become synonymous with the Internet, and the use of Facebook for election day outreach has become an increasingly useful tool for communicating with certain audiences.

During January’s snap presidential election in Zambia, the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG) was able to combine Facebook-optimized infographics that showed the findings of their PVT with targeted advertising campaigns to broaden their organization’s digital footprint in a very narrow timeframe.

Facebook estimates that there are roughly 900 thousand users in Zambia (for reference, there are about 4.2 million in Kenya and around 900 thousand in Zimbabwe) so the potential audience was limited, but is disproportionately under thirty five years old (76%). This is a critical demographic for communicating competitive election information. By contrast, two of the three largest newspapers have print circulations of 29,000 and 25,000, while the largest is estimated at 40,000, according to EISA.

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Zambia Elections: Scaling Local Tech Rapidly

Installing a fiber internet cable just days before the Election.

Presidential elections in Zambia were called after the death of President Michael Sata last October, and were won in January by Defense and Justice Minister Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front. While the second-place candidate called the election “stolen”, based on the findings of the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG), the official results as announced by the ECZ reflected the ballot casts at polling stations. Lungu was inaugurated shortly after, and the opposition are already looking toward the next round of elections in 2016.

Systematic citizen observation can be an important stabilizer in tightly contested elections. To collect the necessary evidence to be that stabilizing agent, NDI’s partner, CCMG, needed to scale it’s local technology and data systems rapidly, and also needed for them to work flawlessly.

In a data collection and internal communication exercise sufficiently large and complex, NDItech helps our partners to integrate globally state-of-the-art tools within local communications and technology infrastructure. The intermediate goals being analysis of over 20,000 messages from 800+ people, the ability to shift data collection priorities immediately, and consistent communication between decision-makers and implementers.

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Discussing Data: Visualizing Nigerian Pre-Election Trends

Part of NDI partner TMG's Nigerian pre-election reports, visualizations like this help highlight key trends in the data.

In the lead up to the March 2015 Nigerian elections, NDI partner, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), deployed a team of over 750 pre-election observers across each of the country’s local government areas (LGAs). These observers have spent the past few months collecting and submitting short message service (SMS) reports on various indicators of interest. This incoming data can be a lot to digest, so to help make some initial sense of it all, the team has turned to data visualization as a component of their analysis. Here to help explain the pre-election observation (PREO) process and its data visualization component is Ryan Dalton, Senior Program Assistant on NDI’s Nigeria team in D.C.

Q: Could you briefly explain the pre-election observation efforts in Nigeria? READ MORE »

Introducing Our DemTools Newsletter!

Read all about our DemTools-related updates!

Since the launch of DemTools: the Democracy Toolkit in August, the NDItech team has been hard at work. We've developed several new features and integrated our suite of tools into a range of programs that support groups working for democracy, open government, and citizen rights around the globe. To better and share these new developments with interested parties, we'll be sending out a quarterly DemTools Newsletter.

The NDItech team welcomes your feedback and encourages you to stay involved in the toolkit's development process. We want to know how you're using DemTools, what challenges you're experiencing, and what improvements you'd like to see in the future. Share your comments, suggestions, and ideas with us at nditech@ndi.org.

DEMTOOLS IN ACTION

Tunisia Elections Observation

Tunisian election monitoring observation group and NDI partner Mourakiboun pursued three parallel vote tabulations, or PVTs, this year to assess the quality of Tunisia's Parliamentary and Presidential elections and verify the national results. Mourakiboun faced a tight timeline for the execution of a software system to manage their data collection efforts. Creating a new database from scratch is a painstaking and long process. READ MORE »

Testing Mobile Applications for Election Monitoring

Are mobile applications the future of election monitoring?

NDItech has written extensively on the challenges and innovations of  election monitoring programs.. To understand and assess these election processes, partner groups rely on the transmission of rapid and reliable data from observers to data centers.  Getting information to the center quickly can be a challenge as observers are often located in far-off rural areas perhaps days from the capitol. As a result, most observation exercises rely on capturing information via paper forms and later using phone calls and SMS-based communication systems to transfer information. READ MORE »

NDItech - Product Development Process

© Dilbert Project Management

This is the first in a series of posts on the NDItech team’s product development process. NDI’s tech products attempt to solve specific problems for people and organizations in emerging democracies. In this post, will look at the example of DemTools development to get an insight into our development process. More about DemTools can be found here.

For the last six months, our team has been following follow the scrum methodology, which is an agile software development framework, for the development and evolution of DemTools. Agile methodology allows us to be flexible, prioritize tasks, and respond to the evolving requirements of our customers.

We wanted to share a bit about how we’re using this agile methodology for developing tech-powered political change programs here at NDI. In this post we’ll tell you how we relate to people and programs, how we think about requirements, and the timelines for our sprints, and the tools we use to glue it all together.

Customers

For the purpose of development of DemTools, the primary customers are the country teams at NDI. The country teams in turn help political parties and civil society organizations in their respective countries use and benefit from NDI’s technology efforts, such as DemTools. READ MORE »

Under the Guidance of Apollo

Apollo

Readers here will be intimately familiar with the Elections Data Management tool, otherwise called Apollo, a name that I have realized will come to stay, despite the better messaging strategy pursued by the ICT team. Apollo will keep this name because of its almost mythical appearance in the midst of elections.  The Greek god Apollo was known as the god of light and truth, of prophecy, and healing. Much like the actual Apollo, the elections Apollo is made manifest from the ether to give meaning and direction to an otherwise amorphous and senseless deluge of information during a PVT. Information that is critical to the validation of an election, information with the ability, to stretch a metaphor, to heal, move, and transform societies. Apollo is pulled from the abyss of Github, thrown up on an Amazon server, deployed in the course of an hour, and reconstructed and refit for the needs of a unique observation mission within several days by the near herculean efforts of  NDI’s beloved Python developer, Tim Akinbo of TimbaObjects. However, the product life cycle of this tool may well need heavenly intervention to continue its current course of development. READ MORE »

DemTools Launch - Our Storify

Technology Strengthens Citizens Watchdog Role in Indonesian Elections

A citizen observer photographs the C1 form in a polling station in Jakarta

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post by David Caragliano, Program Manager on NDI's Asia team.

In any democracy, a close election tests the durability of the country’s political institutions and rule of law – witness the U.S. presidential election of 2000 and Bush v. Gore. By many accounts, after Indonesia’s contentious July 9 presidential election, the institutions of the world’s third largest democracy appear to be holding up well. Joko Widodo (familiarly referred to as “Jokowi”), a candidate of relatively humble origins, defeated former special forces general Prabowo Subianto by a six percentage point-margin of victory. Prabowo has alleged “massive and systematic fraud” and has filed a lawsuit disputing the results in the country’s Constitutional Court.

Prabowo will likely argue for a recount in certain electoral districts (we will wait to see whether his lawyers invoke “hanging chads”). But, through an amalgam of established practices and improvizations, Indonesia’s electoral agencies and civil society have relied upon a number of tactics – leveraging social media, online crowd-sourcing and data aggregation – to help ensure an inclusive, accountable, and transparent process. READ MORE »

Afghanistan Elections 2014: Where will observers be?

Open polling centers in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The upcoming Afghanistan election (5 April) is the third presidential poll since the fall of the Taliban, and should pave the way for the country's first-ever peaceful democratic transfer of power.

Given the public’s lack of confidence in the government’s ability to run a credible election, NDITech has worked with local partners to use digital technologies to enhance transparency and participation in the election process.

In the 2014 edition, the site highlights observer deployment shared by Afghan groups with the public. This enables stakeholders to understand which regions of the country will be covered by trained citizen monitors. In addition, polling center location and district aggregation data highlights the relationships between polling center locations and observer group coverage. As before, all data is available for download.

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Data Centric for Low (No) Cost

Malawi - Roadside Shop - February 2014

Recent news out of Malawi has focused on the President dissolving her cabinet in the wake of arrests of several officials on suspicion of stealing state funds. The “cashgate” corruption scandal highlights the importance of accountability, and suggests an opportunity for citizens to play a key role. In this tense environment, the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) plans to evaluate the conduct of the elections by the Malawi Election Commission (MEC). MESN is a network of civil society organizations working on democratic governance and elections.

An important component of that evaluation is the attention that MESN will pay to data collection and observer management. We’ve discussed many times the importance of high quality data in election monitoring, here.

Successful implementation of a common methodology includes preparing materials, staff, and tools. In order to keep costs low, and quality high, MESN has taken a simple and effective approach to communicating with their observers, and collecting and digitizing their data. Addressing key questions of cost (can users afford to keep the system running?) and capacity (does the organization understand how to administer and fix the system?) MESN is utilizing two tools in tandem: an SMS gateway called Telerivet, and Google Docs. READ MORE »

Mobile Data on the Go: How to Use FormHub and ODK in 5 Easy Steps

Data Collection Gone Mobile - Image Courtesy FormHub

One of the key components to any well run organization is an efficient process for information gathering. This can seem a daunting task for professionals working from differing locations or even transnationally. Traditionally, organizations have relied on paper forms for collecting data only to later gather the forms and enter them manually into a database for analysis. Using web-based forms allows for real-time monitoring and analysis of data. Mobile collection of data also offers the ability to collect advanced data such as GPS coordinates, images, videos, and time stamp data - all on the go and in the field.  

The best part of using mobile-forms is that you don’t have to be a programmer or statistician to utilize them. Building web-forms is a fast, uncomplicated task that can be executed by even the least tech-savvy individuals.  In order to prove this, over the last week I have been working with two tools that are increasingly popular for mobile data collection: Formhub and Open Data Kit (ODK). Below is an easy 5-step breakdown for using Formhub and ODK Collect to enhance your data collection process.

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Crowdsourcing Political Incidents Online

Candidate posters, Kenya Presidential Elections, March 2013.

Kenya's iHub recently released its research on crowdsourced information in the highly contested 2013 Kenya Presidential elections. The study sought to clarify the value of information collected from citizens about political incidents from online media, and to answer whether 1) “passive crowdsourcing” is viable in the Kenyan context  - passive crowdsourcing being defined as monitoring social media such as Twitter 2) determine what unique information Twitter posts provided about the election, and 3) determine the conditions in which crowdsourced information is a viable news source. As part of the report, iHub provided a useful set of recommendations and a decision-making framework for practitioners who are considering similar methodologies. 

The report provides great detail about the research methodology and data sources (Twitter, online traditional media, targeted crowdsourcing platforms like Uchaguzi, and fieldwork). Particularly impressive are the mechanisms described for capture, storage and classification of tweets and the detailed approaches to filtering for newsworthy tweets. The glossary is helpful in clarifying terminology such as that of "passive", "active" and "targeted" crowdsourcing of information from citizens. (NDI prefers the term "citizen reporting" over crowdsourcing for citizen-generated incidents data.) READ MORE »

ElecTech Afghanistan: Increasing Transparency and Participation

MTN welcomes visitors to Kabul International Airport

I’m recently back from Electech Afghanistan, an NDI-hosted elections and technology conference in Kabul. The event brought together senior officials from government, civil society, the private sector, and the international community to discuss applications of digital technologies to enhance transparency and participation in the election process.

Ahead of the Presidential elections in April 2014, the Afghan public lacks confidence in the government’s ability to run a credible election and this is diminishing participation and prospects for stability and democratic development. Afganistan is, of course, a supremely insecure environment with low rates of literacy throughout the population.

Participants identified ways that technology could improve participation and confidence by helping election authorities in administration, improving how political parties compete, increasing citizen’s participation, and enabling civil society organizations to observe more effectively, all while allowing journalists such as Pajhwok News to publicly share results and analysis. Discussion focused on the changing nature of political participation mediated by technology.

From Broadcast to Mobile and Social READ MORE »

The Social Factor in Iran's Presidential Elections - Small Media's Election Monitoring Report

Photo credit: The Guardian

On June 14, Iranians will head to the polls to cast their vote for the country’s next president.  With a slew of candidates and a volatile political climate, social media is abuzz in the country. To track the trends of online conversation surrounding the elections, analysts at Small Media – a UK-based organization focused on technology research – have developed an Election Monitoring Series to explore social media for Iranian perspectives. 

The second report in the series draws on data from Twitter, Facebook, and other sources collected between May 22 and May 27, following the candidates’ announcement on May 21 and leading up to the debate on May 31.  In total, researchers found 14,464 tweets including the names of the eight Iranian presidential candidates.  The most tweeted candidate, garnering 5,897 (40%) of the mentions, was Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator who is said to be very close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomenei.  Following Jalili with 2,117 mentions was Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council who is closely affiliated with the news website Tabnak and focuses on economic issues.  Hassan Rowhani, a Muslim cleric with centrist views and close ties to Iran’s ruling clerics, received 1,638 mentions, followed closely by Mohammad Gharazi and Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf. READ MORE »

The Georgian Elections: Popular Perceptions of Leaders and Parties

Georgia

In Georgia, presidential elections are set to take place this October, generating new interest in the country’s changing political landscape.  NDItech has been engaged with our local partners in using tech to systematically monitor the election there. This will be the sixth presidential election in the country since the country’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and comes at a key time in the nation’s politics.  The elections will take place one year after President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) party was defeated in the parliamentary elections by the Georgian Dream party led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, who became the new prime minister.  This defeat represented a significant blow to President Saakashvili, who led the country’s pro-Western Rose Revolution in 2003. A poll conducted by NDI provides some interesting insights into the nature of political opinions among Georgians. NDI conducts public opinion polling in numerous countries on political issues as part of our work. READ MORE »

NDI at Right to Information Conference at Stanford University

NDI Participates in Right to Information Conference at Stanford University

NDI is presenting a number of papers at a Stanford University conference entitled: “Right to Information and Transparency in the Digital Age: Policy, Tools and Practices”. The conference “seeks to bring together people engaged in law, policy, social movements, administration, technology, design and the use of technology for accessing information.” Two papers  by Chris Doten and Lauren Kunis from NDI looked at information access and political participation in West Africa. 

Chris Doten’s paper, “Transparent Trees Falling in Empty Forests: Civil Society as Open Data Analysts  and Communications Gateways,” specifically focuses on access to and analysis of election data. NDI worked with Coalition for Democracy and Development in Ghana (CDD) in the recent Ghana election.  In the context of election data, in particular, Doten suggests there is a need for solid and publicly available analysis of available data and promotion of that analysis through various media, including publishing of raw data. Without analysis and public distribution through a variey of channels, election data is like the proverbial tree that falls in the woods with no one hearing it. By providing access and analysis Doten suggest that there is the potential for a better informed citizenry.  READ MORE »

Checking the Online Pulse: Sentiment Analysis for Politics and Participation

Facebook Likes

Online sentiment analysis -- measuring the pulse of what is being said about a brand, an idea, a position, or a person online -- provides an interesting and quick (albeit non-scientific) pulse of the 'vox populis' in so far as that voice uses social media. Using adjectives used with a specific term (such as love, hate, like, loathe, etc.), sentiment analysis tools scan public tweets, blog posts, or other available online media to mine for these keywords and a sense of the how a public audience feels about it. We were curious about how this might apply to our work in politics and for democracy support. Here is what we found. 

1. Sentiment analysis is far from perfect or often even accurate. Algorithms cannot distinguish between nuanced usages of words ("No way am I voting for Obama" vs. "No way! Obama has a new app! So cool!") nor can they detect sarcasm. Additionally, Pew Research, an American research institute focused on polling analysis, conducted research showing that for large public opinion polls, Twitter tends to skew either towards liberal or conservative ends, making the world look more polarized than it is.  Sentiment analysis and online digital media monitoring needs to take into consideration he unrepresentative nature of an online audience (wealthier, more male, younger) and account for that.  Pew researchers also point out in a recent study that out those "who comment on Twitter about news events the to share their opinions on subjects that interest them most;, whereas national surveys ask questions of a random sample [of Americans], regardless of their personal engagement on the issues."   For a great, critical and nuanced article on how news media is using sentiment analysis about poltics, read this Niemann Lab piece.

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Kenya Decides - The Kenya Election, Mobiles, and Interactive Media

#KenyaDeciding

The polling stations are slowly closing in Kenya in a so-far largely peaceful day. This is a critical election in one of the most technically-advanced countries in sub-Saharan Africa with many monitoring efforts underway as #kenyadecides (to use the Twitter hashtag of choice). While many predict that is going to be a run-off election, we wanted to give a 'rundown' of all the cool tech used that we are watching:

1. The IEBC, the Kenyan Election Commission, put up (with some help from Google) an interactive map and SMS service for people to find their voter registration stations, registration status, and polling station on election day. It also includes a candidate finder. While the map has some usability issues, it's become a very useful resource for citizens that only can be improved upon.  It's a model for other independent election commissions that is commendable. IEBC's Facebook Page is also worth watching. Incidentally, by all accounts, the IEBC so far has done a great job providing security and ballots; it's also been very responsive to incident reports from both systematic election monitoring organizations and citizen reporting efforts.  No small feat given the enormous voter turnout.  

Most interestingly, IEBC promises to report election results in close-to real time using its API. UPDATE: The API from the IEBC with real-time election results data as the vote is counted is working fabulously and media houses in Kenya are pulling the data and transmitting it live on television. Unprecedented for Kenya.   READ MORE »

Liveblogging #GhanaDecides Day 2: The Revenge

CODEO Dataclerks, Ghana 2012

Goooood morning #Ghana

In a bit of a personal tradition, I'm liveblogging elements from today's Groundhog Day-style election Part the Second.

Updates are added in reverse cronological order.

Epilogue READ MORE »

If an Election Falls in a Forest and No One Hears It...

A Digital World Tree

NDI works with the best citizen election monitoring teams in the world. As we've described in the past our partners are really good at getting the information in quickly. The question then becomes what you do with it - and traditional methods need to change here, too. I'm currently working in Ghana with CODEO, the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers on just such a project.

These days, standard press conferences are not enough. Getting excellent data quickly is useless if you can't also turn it around and share it with the people equally rapidly. It's the tree-falling-in-the-forest problem: if your organization has the best information in the world but no one knows has heard it, what's it all for?

NDI's election observation partners often know better what's taking place on the big day than the electoral authorities themselves. There's an irony there: at the very moment when the eyes of a country and the world are focused on a particular election these partner organizations know exactly what's going on - and have traditionally had no ability to share it.

Well, that's now changing.

The most important information and analysis requires the complete picture to draw the most wide-ranging and significant conclusions possible, and that ain't happening until all the data is in. But the individual snippets of information still have value. READ MORE »

Tech for Elections: Telling a Compelling Story About an Election

"Great stories happen to those who can tell them." - Ira Glass

Beyond developing an effective organization and improving the quality of incoming information, technology is being used in systematic election monitoring to strengthen story-telling and outreach. 

Why Does Storytelling Matter?

People experience political change and electoral competition not as a series of numbers and results but as an experiences and narrative in building a democracy.  When collecting massive amounts of data as part of a systematic observation process, it’s important for election monitoring organizations to be able to tell a good story, often simplifying the conclusions to a few takeaways. These conclusions still need to be evidence-based and representative requiring an honest accounting and analysis.  But in our experience, a systematic analysis told in a compelling way is something few election monitoring organizations are able to do effectively.  Often, the story of an election is outsourced to journalists or political actors.  Simple data-visualization can help - together with a smart and sound strategy on how to deply them. READ MORE »

It's Election Day in Georgia - Live Data Combined in New Ways

Georgia Election Portal

It's election day in a Georgia where a critical parliamentary election is under way.  Dubbed as "a litmus test of the way democracy works in Georgia" by NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, it is a also a test for election-related real-time data of incidents and results.  NDI has worked with three civil society partners in Georgia on an impressive election portal that records incidents at the polls, showcases historical data from prior elections dating back to 2008, and will be streaming live election data released by the Georgia election commission as soon as it is released.  

The Elections Portal is a joint initiative of non-governmental organizations and NDI, namely the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) and Transparency International - Georgia (TI-Georgia).   Citizens can submit electronic reports about any electoral incident they experience via text messages or on the web, while ISFED is also deploying 1271 accredited and trained observers at precinct, district and central election commission levels who are reporting back to a data headquarters sample-based systematic observations. READ MORE »

Tech for Elections: Improving Data from the Crowd

Russia's Yandex smartphone app for reporting vote fraud (Economist.com)

Collecting election-related data provides information about the conduct and integrity of elections - critical events in emerging democracies. This data is collected from both trained observers deployed in a systematic manner and from empowered citizens contributing their witness reports to provide a lense on the election. Collecting such data in an election allows civil society groups and citizens assess and evaluate the process, mitigate the potential for violence, reform the legal frameworks for elections, and engage citizens in menaginful ways. 

As I noted before, decisions on what tools and techniques to deploy for data collections in an election need to be driven by the intended goals.

NDI and our partners in many countries have pioneered and over the years greatly improved election-related data collection through trained and organized observers. Still still involves moving paper but also call-in centers, and, of course, highly efficient and systematic SMS-based reporting.  Citizen reporting efforts with the goal of engaging them meaningfully have, of course, proliferated.  Unfortunately, they also have often been plagued with the “Garbage In, Garbage Out” problem that has made it difficult to tell a cogent story about an election or come to any definitive conclusions. That said, we believe that citizen reporting can be useful especially in the period before election day to flag and highlight potential issues with voter registration and other preparations for election day. 

We are exploring a number of tools and methods in our work to intelligenty combine both systematic election observation and citizen reports both prior to- and during an election.  Some of these tools underused right now are: 

1)      Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

IVR systems (ex. Freedom Fone) enable automated, interactive, audio-based data collection and communication through mobile phone networks. They can be set to respond with prerecorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct reporters through a series of simple interactions. Their importance has been highlighted for reaching offline or illiterate constituencies, bridging language barriers, and allowing users to move past the 160 character limitation of an SMS. READ MORE »

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