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India: The Advent of Citizen-Driven Election Monitoring

Categories: South Asia, India, Digital Activism, Elections, Technology

This post is part of the Global Voices special coverage on Indian Elections 2009 [1]

We are living in an era of information overload [2]. As new media tools are becoming accessible to more and more people, everybody is chipping in with their sides of a story and disseminating first hand reports. Today there is a plethora of instant information via twitter messages and other citizen media tools. The phenomenon like the successful use of Twitter during Mumbai attacks [3] is unpredictable, has value in real time and cannot be archived.

That is where Ushahidi makes a difference. Ushahidi [4] (‘witness’ in Swahili) is an tool that was used to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. It provided a mechanism for the local observers to submit reports using their mobile phones or the internet. The information was filtered by local activist volunteers and an archive of the events were kept in an website using geographical mashup which is accessible to readers. Its success led to its replication [5] as a tool for crisis reporting in some other places of the world.

Eric Hersman, one of the persons behind Ushahidi describes [6] the process of filtering the information in Ushahidi:

Crowdsourcing the filter: how does it work? [7]

Crowdsourcing the filter: how does it work?

The good news is that the Ushahidi model has been introduced in India too. Vote Report India [8], a collaborative citizen-powered election monitoring platform based on the Ushahidi engine, will monitor the parliamentary elections in India [1], which is starting in a few weeks from now.

Eric Hersman writes [9]:

At Ushahidi, we’ve seen a number of deployments of the platform, but few have been as well organized and grown with as much community input as this Indian one, led by Gaurav Mishra [10]. On the technical side, Selvam Velmurugan of eMoshka [11], a non-partisan non-profit organization to enable stronger democracies through increased citizen awareness and engagement, has done most of the heavy lifting.

vote_report_india_header [8]

Interestingly, Indian has a Twitter-like service called SMS GupShup [12] that has millions of users subscribing to certain channels. The team is creating city-specific update accounts on Twitter and SMSGupShup for the top 8 cities in India (ex: VoteReportMumbai, VoteReportDelhi etc.). They can then point the RSS feeds for these cities to these accounts and give users four options for subscribing to alerts: by email, by RSS, or by SMS on Twitter or SMSGupShup.

Gaurav Mishra of Vote Report India, also a Global Voices author [13], writes [14] in his own blog:

Basically, users contribute direct SMS, email, and web reports on violations of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct (PDF) [15]. The platform will then aggregate these direct reports with news reports, blog posts, photos, videos and tweets related to the elections from all relevant sources, in one place, on an interactive map.

We are hoping that Vote Report India will not only increase transparency and accountability in the Indian election process, but also provide the most complete picture of public opinion in India during the elections.

In a previous post Gaurav weighed on Twitter and Ushahidi to find out which is the better mobile citizen reporting tool [16] considering India's situation.

vote-report-india-badge [8]Indians can send in reports to Vote Report India [8] in four ways:

1. SMS to 5676785
2. Email to report@votereport.in [17]
3. Twitter with hash tag #votereport
4. Online via web form [18]