Journalist, Online, Social, Writing

What we can learn from Venezuela and Kenya

It didn’t come as a surprise.

This year’s elections around the world were often marred by allegations of election fraud, including vote buying, intimidation and physical violence. But what is new is the shift in how such claims are being reported in the digital age – and taken seriously.

Election monitoring was first documented in 1857 – when several European countries observed elections in Moldova and Wallachia (located in present day Romania). With the arrival of smart phones and global access to the internet, the traditional way of documenting election observations took on a twist with the marriage of social media and crowd sourcing.

In the most talked about election of the year, nearly 80% of registered Venezuelan voters cast their vote in the presidential elections last month. At the time of this publication, a recount is underway – challenging Mr. Maduro’s narrow 1.5% margin victory. Among those challenging the election’s validity is Venezuela’s Citizen Election Network.

To monitor the elections, the network took to Twitter to gather data on election violations at the polling stations. Twitter users tweeted allegations of electoral fraud and intimidation using designated hashtags and direct messages. More than a thousand reports were received, including alleged unjustified voting assistance, intimidation or threats, physical violence and abuse of power.

But Venezuela isn’t the only country that used Twitter to voice injustice for action.

During the 2012 U.S. presidential election, a Pennsylvania GOP employee published a photo on Twitter that portrayed a mural of President Obama at a Philadelphia polling station. A judge later ordered that the mural be covered.

Mapping electoral fraud

Ushahidi, a company that specializes in interactive mapping, was initially created to map out reports of violence in the deadly aftermath of Kenya’s disputed 2007 presidential election results. Five years later, the tech company launched the Uchaguzi platform prior to the 2013 Kenyan elections.

The most far-reaching approach yet, Uchaguzi crowd sources data via Twitter, SMS, Android, e-mail, the web and more. The comprehensive classifications of both negative offences and acts of integrity ranged from polling station logistical issues to
police peace efforts.

More than 4,500 reports were cast – and a staggering 58% of these claims have been verified. The findings have been referred to by both Kenya’s electoral commission and international media.

More to come

Crowd sourcing is not a one-size-fits-all solution (as evident by the failed crowd sourcing project turned witch hunt for the Boston bombing suspects). But it is the most overarching remedy to expose, document – and even prevent– election violations.

From Australia to Zimbabwe, the final half of 2013 remains a busy election year. But through the shrouded uncertainty of who will win, one notion remains clear: digitally engaged voters are watching… and tweeting.

Written by Stephanie Burnett for Interhacktives. Stephanie is a country researcher and editor for corruption related information at Transparency International. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.