Elections

ElecTech Abidjan - Talking Tech and Elections in Cote d'Ivoire

Working group discussions of Ivorian electoral challenges.

Cote d’Ivoire has an election coming up this fall. The last one didn’t go so well. As such, there is a lot of focus on - and anxiety about - the months ahead from the international community.

Last month, NDI and our partners from the Platform of Civil Society Organizations for the Observation of Elections in Cote d’Ivoire (POECI, as they are known to their friends) hosted a conference pulling together all the key players in the upcoming election: leaders from political parties, technologists, civil society, the election commission, journalism and academia. NDI has done a number of these gatherings in the past convening folks at the intersection of technology and electoral politics - we call them ElecTechs.

There was a lot of interest in the topic from the geeky political world and we ended up with quite a full house, with over 60 people in the room; POECI needed to turn away gatecrashers. Core to this whole conference (and probably all my future posts about Cote d’Ivoire) was the work by Akendewa, an Ivorian technology hub and POECI member. Akendewa is awesome; they’re a remarkable group with impressive capabilities and enthusiastic members. You’ll be hearing more about them in my next post. READ MORE »

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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Citizen Loop: Voter Engagement Through Mobile Feedback Loops

Voter Engagement Through Mobile Feedback Loops

We recently put forward a proposal with the folks from The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and CiviCRM to the Knight Foundation News Challenge on Elections. The competition looks for creative ways to help engage citizens, strengthen participation and educate voters.

Our proposal is entitled “Citizen Loop - Enhancing Voter Engagement Through Mobile Feedback Loops”. The concept is relatively simple: an interactive voter engagement tool that increases participation through an automated, dynamic, text message feedback system providing information and helping citizens make a plan to vote.
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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 »

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 »

Tunisia Presidential Election Observation WordChart

The above wordchart is taken from the comments and responses of International Election Observers during Tunisia's recent presidential election. The content is directly culled from the mobile forms that the observers filled out on tablets using Formhub and ODK collect.

Tablets in Tunisia: Transforming Election Day Data Collection

Election observers test out the tablets.

In NDI’s 30 years of existence, the Institute has observed more than 200 elections around the world. The Institute’s international election observation missions draw on a network of senior experts and politicians from around the globe as observers and examine all phases of the election processes. On election day, observers visit polling stations to witness the voting process and report findings to the mission’s headquarters in the capital city, where they are analyzed and incorporated into the mission’s preliminary statement on the election. With the advent of new mobile technologies, the process for transmitting observers’ findings on election day is starting to shift.

To take a deeper look at how NDI is using ICTs to streamline the election day data collection process, we sat down with NDI-Tunisia’s Resident Program Manager for Elections, Nicholas Collins. Nicholas recently managed NDI’s missions to observe the October 26 legislative elections and November 23 first-round presidential election in Tunisia, and is leading preparations to observe the run-off presidential election anticipated in December. He was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat:

Q: What is the typical process of collecting data and information during an international observation mission (IOM)?

READ MORE »

The Influence of Social Media and New Technologies in Afghanistan

Panelists, Tech Rising Event (USIP)

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post by Katherine Bradbury, Project Assistant on NDI's Asia team.

In March 2002, NDI established an office in Afghanistan and has since worked to promote the participation of civic groups, political parties, women, and government bodies in the country’s political and electoral processes. This process has taken place in the context of a difficult transition from Taliban rule to new democratic institutions. While political organizations and civil society groups have made progress in advancing democratic political processes, much more needs to be done to protect gains Afghanistan has made in democratic governance, political pluralism, and the protection of human rights, especially the rights of women. Security, political stability, and democratic governance are closely linked, and the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s government hinges on credible elections. The recent 2014 presidential and provincial elections presented an opportunity to promote fair and peaceful competition for political power, and sustain the progress that has been made to-date in Afghanistan. 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

Meet DemTools: Closing the Geek Gap

DemTools: Open Source for Opening Politics

In the last few years, powerful, cloud-based web apps have revolutionized the way business, civic groups and governments engage with citizens. Online campaign management systems helped empower Barack Obama’s supporters to organize their communities on the way to victory; sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) systems help businesses effectively push their wares; online communication platforms connect marketers with the populace.

Human rights and democracy advocates in the developing world have been left stranded in this leap to more effective tools. There’s a new form of digital divide that’s emerged: call it the geek gap. There are a lot of sophisticated open source software systems out there, but free software is a bit like a free puppy: the problem ain't the initial price, it’s the care and feeding over years. In low-infrastructure societies, there just aren’t a lot of people with the sophisticated systems administration skills to set up a Linux server, configure Apache, set up MySQL, and install a web application like Drupal. While there are great commercial options, struggling human rights organizations often can’t write the checks to keep those services running.

NDItech has been working on technology for development for over fifteen years, and we’ve seen the same problems manifest repeatedly. Sustainability in development is hard, and when it comes to tech it’s harder. Keeping the lights on - and web sites running - years after a project ends just doesn’t happen very often.

We're attempting to cut that Gordian knot with DemTools: the Democracy Toolkit. We’re launching with a set of four web apps that solve some of the most common problems our global network of partners have experienced. DemTools development was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). READ MORE »

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 »

Citizen Participation and Technology: A Look at the Social Media Landscape in Nigeria

The Social Media Landscape in Nigeria, AfricaPractice (2014)

Since Nigeria's transition from military to civilian rule, NDI has worked closely with civic and political organizations to support the development of the country's newly formed democratic institutions. Although the quality of elections in Nigeria progressively declined post-1999, the 2011 elections marked a turning point, as they were seen to be the most credible elections the country had ever held. Now, with the 2015 elections fast approaching, identifying how to build on this momentum is on the minds of many.

Given the rapid rise in the use of digital technology and the way that it’s changing the relationship between governments and those being governed, part of the answer may lie in expanding political participation using social media. Our team here at NDI just published an important new study this May on Citizen Participation and Technology, which showed that while more people are using technology around the world, the quality of their political participation and the overall impact on democratization varies from country to country.

An interesting publication released this April by AfricaPractice takes a look at the case of Nigeria and how the country’s evolving digital media landscape is having an impact on citizen participation in politics. 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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Circumventing Twitter Restrictions

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 10.09.24 AM.png

Turkey blocked Twitter. If you happen to have been on vacation over the weekend or haven’t had a chance to check out the newspaper in a few days, The Washington Post and Reuters both have good write ups on the potential political fallout of this Twitter block as well as some background information on the situation. The interesting thing, as noted in the Washington Post article, is that this “restriction” has had little effect on Twitter chatter within the country. In fact, in the aftermath of discovering that they were no longer able to access Twitter, tweets spiked to 138 percent of the normal posting rate, an ironic feat in light of the ban. This statistic begs the question, “How are Turks tweeting, and tweeting rapidly, and about a Twitter ban?”

Well, the answer is simple and not so simple. Turkey has faced routine website blocking for the better part of the last decade, most notably the 2008 restriction of access to Youtube (which was in effect for 2 years). By now, most Turks, especially the younger generation, are well acquainted with the various measures for circumventing such restrictions. In case you are not, here are a few of the ways to access Twitter in the event of a block.

  1. SMS

On March 20th, Twitter sent out a tweet instructing Turks how they could tweet via SMS on both Vodafone and Turkcell networks. SMS tweets are popular in areas with limited access to internet data, but in this case the service is proving to be multi-functional. Users can also receive tweets from friends that the user designates they would like to receive mobile tweets from. Obviously Twitter via SMS lacks much of the user experience of the broader Twitter app and website, but it still proves to be an effective work around.

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 »

Social Media and Political Awareness Under Authoritarian Regimes

New Article Featured in the British Journal of Political Science Focuses on Social Media Under Authoritarian Regimes

How do people under authoritarian regimes become politically aware? Does social media influence political awareness? And does social media really help to undermine authoritarian regimes? These are the questions raised in an article in the British Journal of Political Science. Authors Ora John Reuter and David Szankonyi examine the role of social media and political awareness under authoritarian regimes and provide some fascinating analysis.

The authors led a survey of 1,600 adults conducted following the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections. Their study is particularly interesting because although social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are growing in ubiquity around the world, some non-democratic regimes such as Russia and China have heavily state influenced social media platforms such as vKontakte and Odnoklassniki in Russia. 

The authors reviewed the relevant literature across political science on the influence of social media on political awareness, noting an unsurprising muddle of contradictions. Much of the “disharmony” in the literature draws form the inability for any causal relationships between the use of social or “new media” and political change.  READ MORE »

Pitfalls in Tolerance: An Analysis of Twitter Data for Electoral Predictions

How-to-Follow-the-2012-US-Presidential-Elections-on-Twitter.jpg

As we all know, Twitter is a platform for creating and sharing short bursts of information instantly and without borders. Scholars have taken note and analyze Twitter data to “take the pulse” of society. Since 2010 a number of studies have tried to assess the viability of Twitter as a substitute for traditional electoral prediction methods. They have ranged from theoretical works to data analysis. These studies have been inspired by the lure of access to real-time information and the ease of collecting this data.

In recent study, Daniel Gayo-Avello of the University of Oviedo in Spain examined a number of previous attempts at predicting elections using Twitter data. The author conducted a meta analysis of fifteen prior studies to analyse whether Twitter data can be used to predict election results. He found that the 'presumed predictive power regarding electoral prediction has been somewhat exaggerated: although social media may provide a glimpse on electoral outcomes current research does not provide strong evidence to support it can currently replace traditional polls." READ MORE »

Online Organizing Platforms

@SenWarren opens #RootsCamp13

Our last RootsCamp ‘13 round-up identified free tools to maximize voice, and to collect and analyze social and mobile data. Each tool was quite specific in its purpose and execution. Beyond these, the attendees (vendors and activists alike) discussed a broader set of platforms (suites) that attempt to manage people and data in a way that allow for a variety of campaign and advocacy activities including petitions, member engagement, mobilization, etc.  As before, find a round-up of the best-of-breed at the conference below. Send any of your own suggestions, and we'll update the list.

Campaign Management

NGP VAN is the largest provider of political data management tools for progressives in the US. With it’s recent purchase of NationalField, which builds tools for managing field staff and volunteers, they provide an integrated platform of fundraising, organizing, new media, and social networking products.

NationBuilder is billed as “Political campaign software starting at $19/mo”, NationBuilder has developed an impressive set of online tools for campaigns including websites, voter databases, fundraising tools, and communications tools. Nationbuilder is looking to internationalize its platform. READ MORE »

RootsCamp '13: Free Tools

Roots Camp Logo

Roots Camp 13 is over. This buzzy unconference of field organizers, digital directors, data geeks, and political wonks continues to be an intriguing amalgam of progressive activists growing skills, sharing knowledge, and building networks.

Many fascinating conversations tackled proactive and reactive messaging, mobile advocacy, testing and analytics, data-driven politicking, among others. The tweet stream and archive can be found at #roots13, and here's an initial review by David Weigel on Slate.

Striking the fancy of our @nditech team were the plethora of free online organizing tools that were highlighted throughout the sessions. I’ve posted a round-up of the best-of-breed below. Send any of your own suggestions, and we'll update the list.

Maximizing Your Voice (Message Distribution) READ MORE »

Voto Mobile - Engaging and Polling Citizens with the Power of Voice

Voto - Mobile Engagement, Simplified

There is an election in a week,  you want to poll the citizenry before the election, and your financial resources are limited. What should you do? Should you (A.) Give up because it is simply not possible to get a full-fledged poll out in the field. (B.) Beg your donor to give you a last minute cash infusion to bring on more staff and a polling company. (C.) Join the 21st Century and leverage technology to generate a fully randomized national telephone poll using a platform like Voto Mobile. Voto Mobile's goal is to make interacting with an audience via mobile phones - either one-way via broadcast or two-way in an interactive fashion -- easy and inexpensive.

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to sit down twice with developers and staff from the socially conscious start-up Voto Mobile. Based out of Kumasi, Ghana, Voto Mobile has the straight-forward goal of “Mobile Engagement, Simplified.” The company is leveraging the ubiquity of mobile phones around the world to enable both research and social engagement that offers CSOs, NGOs, Political Parties and other organizations new capabilities. READ MORE »

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 »

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