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Kenyan election-monitoring program deployed for U.S. election 

(Credit: joelip/flickr)

An election-monitoring program developed in Kenya will help track tomorrow’s elections in the United States. Citizens can report polling irregularities, instances of intimidation or other problems through Twitter, email, text message or on the web. All the information is collected and shared instantly by the Nairobi-based company Ushahidi.

“As citizens, let’s raise our voices and help to report any issues on election day as well as celebrate all those who run a tight ship and bring trust to the underpinning of our democratic systems,” said Ushahidi’s Nat Manning in a blog post.

Rhetoric about vote rigging, intimidation and suppression has clouded the presidential campaign. Ushahidi has monitored elections in 40 countries, including Kenya, South Sudan and Japan. The data collection would work in tandem with the independent and partisan election monitors used across the U.S. during tomorrow’s vote. By using digital technology and traditional vetting, Ushahidi quickly identifies potential problems.

Americans are encouraged to share both positive and negative reports. The point is not to shame the electoral process, but provide useful feedback and uphold the democratic process.

“Our motto is, ‘raise your voice.’ Your voice is important. If you see something, positive or negative, then you can share that with us,” Ushahidi Executive Director Daudi Were told Quartz. “[The platform] isn’t built anticipating violence. It’s just one way for us to get a snapshot of what’s happening on election day.”

Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, was developed in response to Kenya’s post-election violence in 2007-08. Violence erupted shortly after Kenya’s Electoral Commission declared incumbent President Mwai Kibaki the winner. Days earlier, rival Raila Odinga held a lead with 90 percent of the votes counted. Support for the two candidates was drawn along ethnic and regional lines. Odinga protested Kibaki’s victory and fighting between supporters for the two candidates broke out.

A group of developers created Ushahidi to track the ongoing violence. Most Kenyan families had cell phones at the time, so they were encouraged to report attacks and incidents by text message. The data were collected and displayed on a Google map to help show the nature and locations of the violence.

The open-sourced technology is now used to report on varying topics. Harassmap launched in 2010 in Egypt to track sexual harassment. It uses Ushahidi’s program to gather and display reports.

Ushahidi helped prioritize the aid response after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. A group of students at Tufts University tracked social media to map needs and incidents. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate cited the mapping effort as a crucial component to the agency’s response in Haiti.

The technology also helped monitor elections in Venezuela. News outlets and the nonprofit Instituto Prensa y Sociedad established Guachimán Electoral (election watchman) to track December’s parliamentary elections. President Nicolás Maduro refused to allow monitors from the Organization of American States and other groups to watch the election. Instead, he brought in an organization established by former president and ally Hugo Chávez.

Reports are already rolling in to the USA Election Monitor. The majority are positive voting experiences and instances of long lines at early voting polling stations. Tuesday is the major test for the monitor. To see the latest reports, see the map below or go here.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]