Transmitting vote tallies by mobile phone to prevent tampering


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During Kenya’s 2002 presidential elections, independent monitoring groups used mobile phones to keep the election process honest by immediately reporting vote tallies from each polling place.

In previous elections, votes had to be physically transported to key counting points before any results could be released. Although observers monitored this process, the delay did leave open the possibility of fraud, or at least the suspicion of fraud. The instant communication provided by mobile phones (in many Kenyan polling stations there are no fixed land lines) made it difficult to change results.

Two groups given credentials by the election commission to observe the vote count monitored the election: the Institute for Education in Democracy (IED) and the Kenya Domestic Observer Programme (K-DOP). IED volun­teers were stationed in 178 of Kenya’s 210 constituencies. Volunteers used their own phones and were given an allowance of 2000 Kenyan shillings (about US$26). They called a central IED office to report as soon as votes were counted; the numbers were posted immediately on the Internet. Volunteers also called in to report violence and malpractice. The IED results were available even before the official results of the Kenya’s electoral commis­sion, largely because the commission had a more complicated protocol for releasing results.

K-DOP also used a network of volunteers, but did not have standard provisions for reimbursement. Kenyan elec­tion commission officers also reported results by phone, using government-supplied satellite phones or their own mobile phones where no land lines existed.

The transparency created by the quick and independent reporting of these several networks helped prevent the violence that may have occurred had people on the losing side of the election suspected fraud. The fast reporting forced both the major candidates and their supporters to accept the results as legitimate.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

Mobile phone networks can also be useful in other situations when time is of the essence. For example, during and immediately following elections, control of ballot boxes and vote tallies is critical. In Kenya, mobile phone networks have been used to keep elections fair and honest — thereby preserving people’s right to take part in the government of their country — by reporting vote tallies before they could be tampered with.

Mobile phones are increasingly used to ensure that elections are fair and to preserve the basic human right of expressing one’s will in a free and genuine election. Even fast communication, however, cannot always speed up bureaucracy. One observer in Kenya noted that, while officials used mobile phones to report problems such as voters not included in the rolls, some voters were still turned away because of the complicated protocols in­volved in fixing the problem.

Mobile phones have been used in other recent elections around the world. During the 2000 elections in Peru, nonpartisan monitors from the Peruvian organization Transparencia telephoned turnout numbers, evaluations of the quality of the voting and counting processes, and precinct election results to a central data analysis cen­ter from a randomly selected sample of polling stations across the country. Some reports came from remote regions of the Andes and Amazon regions. Transparencia’s data analysis prompted national and international pressure for Alberto Fujimori to accept a run-off election.