Election Monitoring

Tech vs. the Many Tools of Control

A protester in Minsk

Belarus' people went to the polls December 19. It didn't go well, as Alexander Lukashenko's implausible 80% victory added to a string of really grim elections of late. The OSCE statement noted "observers assessing almost half of vote counts monitored as bad or very bad". NDI's partner organizations were on the ground, watching it - but their tech-enabled reporting system had been crippled.

A couple months back I traveled to the region to work with some of our Belarusian partners as they prepared to peacefully monitor the elections. One major component of the effort was using SMS to try to get numbers back as fast as possible for analysis. READ MORE »

Data for the Decisionmakers: Afghan Election Edition

Uncle Sam

NDI does some cool stuff, but for real influence you can't top good ol' Uncle Sam.

One of the most important audiences for NDI's AfghanistanElectionData.org visualization tool is policymakers at the State Department, USAID, and on Capitol Hill.

By developing open tools that can be used by all - including top policymakers - efforts like this make for better informed decisionmaking by the people who really control the levers of power. And our friends in government tell us they get a lot of milage out of the site.

Of course, State or AID could have built their own, private version to use internally. But by providing the resources to let NDI and our coding partner Development Seed put this together, everyone can make use of the data.

The folks who have the most invested in this information are the Afghan people themselves, of course. During the launch of the data from the Presidential elections last year we found that the demands on bandwidth and browsers were too much, and that for some the site was too slow to be of practical use. The 2010 site is much faster; I can't wait to hear stories of how the site is used by the citizens of Afghanistan.

YouTubeing Human Rights Violations

As I was saying, YouTube can be a great way to share video of human rights abuses among all the dreck of cats on treadmills.

I wanted to highlight one specific example that Ramy Raoof shared as part of his project to gather video of abuses in Egypt's recent, deeply flawed elections.

A crowd, including elderly women, are irate as they are turned away from a polling place:

Not everyone can witness abuses firsthand, but the word can get out virally thanks to new media technologies.

Data Envy

National Voters' Register Online

The Uganda Election Commission recently launched their National Voters' Register Online system - with the assistance of our friends over at IFES - that allows citizens to confirm that their name appears on the voters roll in their polling place . This is a great step and important service - and something we don't see often enough in many countries around the world. IFES and the other international organizations should continue to focus on these kind of technology initiatives around election administration - and then take the next step by helping civil society groups and political parties use the data to hold electoral officials and governments accountable for good elections.

The data available through the Uganda tool allows citizens to look themselves up if they know where they are registered to vote, and voter lists are provided for each of thousands of polling centers. There are limits to what can be done with data in this format - but the system knows who is registered to vote where, and thus where polling stations are and how they map to all the political districts in the country. The election officials may also have geocode information for polling centers and map data. READ MORE »

YouTube is not for activists. This is a good thing.

Fish in a Digital Ocean

YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms are not exclusively - or primarily - a tool for political activism, despite the sense you'd get from folks like us writing about them. This is a good thing.

People living in closed societies are mostly just living, like everyone everywhere. Most content generated, whether media or text, isn't going to targeting a thuggish government; folks are going to share random slices of their life. Except for the few activists. That low ratio is important.

Mao nailed it on insurgency strategies: the guerilla is a fish that swims in the sea of the people. That's what is going on here. If a big swath of the people are using, say, YouTube as part of their life, a complete block or shutdown is going to be wildly unpopular. The masses will be more pissed at the government and sympathetic to the activists. READ MORE »

Analyzing Data, Documenting Election Fraud

Maiden's Tower in Azerbaijian

November 7th was a bad day for worldwide democracy.

As Ian has discussed and partners on the ground have documented the military elections in Burma were a disaster. At the same time, Azerbaijian held parliamentary elections that "cannot be considered free and fair" as NDI's partner, the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS) found in their hard-hitting report. Violations included ballot box stuffing, multiple voting, not bothering to post final numbers, etc. EMDS was on the ground, documenting it all. EMDS monitors, observing at a statistically-selected sample of polling places, reported data into a central headquarters.

Using a web-based system to enter the information from each observer, coordinators were able to look for gaps, do on-the-fly analysis to flag anomalous results, and look at trends by district, time, or other criteria. The central database was built by local developers, and enabled EMDS to rapidly aggregate, process, and examine these observer reports. EMDS was able to rapidly report on the situation and call out the regime for their electoral abuse. READ MORE »

Telling the Story with Maps

Blog Land Map

We had an interesting team discussion last week about the "why" of putting data on maps, a subject Chris D touched on in this silo post after a World Bank discussion on the topic, and Ian Schuler blogged about in his Burma election post yesterday. The question on the table was a simple one: why are these maps important for NDI's partners and our democracy work in general?

One of the themes worth mentioning was a reminder of the importance of providing visualization tools, including but not limited to maps, that not only provide the data in a visually engaging way but also tell a story - a key to making the data speak to and persuade the audience. In many cases, it's not enough to simply put political information on maps without context - in fact this could have the opposite effect and lead to misleading inferences or undermine your goals in some situations.

This simple and seemingly obvious concept is one that our team needs to keep in mind, and reinforce to our partners and staff around the world as web-based mapping applications become more popular. READ MORE »

Burma Election Tracker is a window into a closed election

Burma Election Tracker map

As polls opened in Burma, our friends at Burma Partnership launched a new site that provides reports, data, and analysis of the election. Burma Election Tracker shows reports and information collected by dozens of local human rights, media, and advocacy organizations. This is an impressive undertaking from an impressive group of organizations.

Presently the site contains nearly 200 reports on the pre-election period. While elections in Burma are widely expected to be problematic and have not been accepted by the main political opposition, they provide an important communications opportunity for activists. Burma Election Tracker tells a compelling story about how the environment leading up to elections fails to provide the conditions for an election that can express the will of the Burmese people.

We are excited about Burma Election Tracker because it combines some elements of crowdsourcing tools like Ushahidi--such as incident mapping and reports based largely on unstructured data--with approaches election monitoring groups would use for providing a clear assessment of the process and advocating for reform. (Burma Partnership and the other participating groups don’t consider their effort to be election monitoring. However they face similar goals and challenges in the way that the use data. Neither is this effort truly crowdsourcing.) READ MORE »

A Missing Link in the Rights Struggle: Political Process Monitoring

Phillipines - First Time Voters (FTV) Youth Dialogue

There is a lot of talk about political activism in the tech for development and democracy space. We often discuss capturing evidence or documenting abuses using cameras and phones; citizen journalism and citizen reporting using blogs, SMS or other social media; crowdsourcing reports on to web-based maps; or circumventing repressive regimes to gain access to the Internet - often to share the evidence or access the social platforms we use to share our experiences.

Lots of great technologies, lots of courageous activists and citizens, and lots of international support for these efforts.

However, it seems to me that a big piece of the puzzle isn't very clear - how are these technologies and political activities supposed to bring about the desired poltiical change? What process do these actions support? What is the theory of change?

This post attempts to fill in some of that gap by explaining a common approach that NDI coaches groups to use in combination with all these great technologies: political process monitoring. READ MORE »

NDItech is Hiring: Election Monitoring in Closed Political Space

We're looking for an online messaging guru to travel to the Middle East for a 3-week field assignment to work with NDI partners (local NGOs) who are monitoring and highlighting government conduct during an electoral period. This position is similar to the previous Thailand gig mentioned by Katherine.

We're looking for someone to work with our local partners to tell their stories about the election, and to use data collection and compelling visualization to further citizen understanding of the process. See full skills description here.

Talking "Liberation Technology" With Friends at Stanford

High- and low-tech security approaches

Last Friday I had an opportunity to talk to the Liberation Technology Seminar at Stanford University - led by democracy scholar Larry Diamond.

The talk, titled "Seize the Day, Seize the Data: Tech-Enabled Moments of Opportunity in Closed Societies," provided a great opportunity for our team here to shore up our thinking about working in what we call challenging environments or closed societies. You may think of them as authoritarian regimes.

Working in closed societies is a small percentage of NDI's work; the majority of our programs take place in established democracies of varying levels - from the most fragile to well established democratic countries. However, in response to the State Department's Internet Freedom initiative and other factors, we have seen additional interest in this topic (as I have mentioned) and it's a good opportunity to share how NDI approaches ICT work in these countries.

The text of our talk is attached below, and the video will be available soon.

Here is a summary of the four main points and the QA. READ MORE »

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