Citizen Monitors

By | May 15, 2007

I like the idea of this: Using ordinary folk to monitor elections, via SMS from their cellphone. And it seems to have worked.

Nigeria used a system called FrontlineSMS, developed by UK-based to keep track of all of the texts. Some 54 trained associates recruited volunteers to invite as many people as possible via text message to participate in monitoring the elections.

Why might this work? Well, usually election monitors are highly visible, because they’re foreign, or they’re wearing clothes that mark them clearly as monitors, all of which may reduce fraud in front of them, but doesn’t help to actually identify fraud. As the report (no link available yet) from the Network of Mobile Election Monitors concludes:

Our monitoring is peculiar because people knew that if they try to rig the election there could be someone behind them that may send a text message reporting the incident.

In total over 10,000 messages were received covering reports of harassment, orderliness, stuffing of ballot boxes and poor voter turnout. The team concluded that there was extensive fraud and rigging in the election.

What I like about the system is that it’s not a typical election monitoring exercise, where monitors go in and view the process according to foreign templates and established norms. The free-form nature of the text messages received, and the ability of the monitoring team to ask follow up questions of participants revealed something more important than merely gauging whether the election was free and fair. It (apparently) revealed the underlying mood of the populace for peace and compromise. Asked for their reaction to the result

While about a fifth of our respondents wanted the results cancelled, the majority (about 80%) reacted that Nigeria could not afford cancellation and re-run.


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