tors report periodically throughout the day to a command center, often in the capital city. Analysts combine the monitors’ reports and produce an assessment of the election process. These statements have to be carefully worded, because they can be a flashpoint for citizen reactions to an election. NDI has given particular attention to these messages, working on how to tell a story with data and visualize processes on a map.
Technology has greatly improved but also complicated election monitoring. The adoption of mobile telephones, for example, has “fundamentally changed and improved election monitoring around the world,” said Spence. Before mobile phones, monitors made their reports on paper, which had to be gathered by people in vehicles or on foot before the reports could be analyzed. “That process was inefficient, slow, and inaccurate, and frankly election monitoring groups were making statements they couldn’t back up with data, way too often, until mobile phones.”
Voice reporting and text messaging with mobile phones have transformed the reporting system, and smartphones could bring further improvements. Smartphones will not be adopted soon at the grassroots level in many places, Spence cautioned, but they represent the “next level of phenomenal opportunity for all of us to start solving these data collection problems.”
Technology also has improved the analysis of data, whether texts, data entries, or phone calls. It can filter data to determine which sample points are missing, and it can detect bad data and recontact observers to confirm information. “You can get much better quality data through these data tools and dashboards.”
One problem with election monitoring is that analysts still typically work with the software tools they used in the days of manual reporting rather than the Web-based tools now available. “There’s an opportunity that we’ve been trying to solve, and we welcome help.”
Command centers have begun to use cloud computing, which makes it possible to not only store data remotely but also synchronize and compare data. Cloud storage broadens access to the data and protects them if a data or command center suddenly becomes inaccessible. And cloud computing facilitates the participation of analysts outside the country or in safer locations.
Better visualization tools and datasets are needed, Spence said. For example, acquiring data about past elections is very difficult in many countries, but these data can be very useful for checking turnout and other aspects. Similarly, an important preelection activity is a voter roll audit to determine whether voters are intentionally or otherwise being disenfranchised, but such rolls can be difficult to acquire. Even reliable maps of current