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The problem: Electoral fraud and corruption in Afghanistan and beyond
Of the 182 countries ranked on Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, Afghanistan is ranked 180th—placing it ahead of only North Korea and Somalia. In 2010, Afghanistan held elections for its lower house of parliament that were marred by fraud: ultimately, over 1 million votes were invalidated and a resulting power struggle nearly destroyed the country’s political institutions.
The solution: Mobilizing cellular technology to detect and deter fraud
A team from the University of California, San Diego, created the Photo Quick Count program aimed at increasing electoral transparency through the use of mobile phones. The program is used to take independent photographs of voting counts at a random selection of polling centers immediately following an election. These voting count forms are separated from the electoral chain of custody, and then later compared to corresponding numbers in the certified national aggregate. Any differences between the two counts suggest that votes have been illegally sold by corrupt election officials to candidates.
The UCSD team applied to DIV to measure the effectiveness of this election monitoring approach during the 2010 parliamentary elections in Afghanistan. The UCSD team used this funding to conduct a randomized control trial evaluating how candidates’ and election officials’ would behave if they knew that their vote counts would be photographed.
The potential: Cost-effectiveness, impacts, and implications
The UCSD trial showed significant results: in polling stations that were warned that vote tallies would be monitored with photographs, they found a 60 percent reduction in the theft of election materials and a 25 percent drop in votes for the most well-connected candidates.
Following the evidence of the approach's success in Afghanistan, UCSD partnered with Qualcomm to successfully replicate the approach during Uganda's February 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections in a trial that adapted “quick counts” to a Qualcomm app to enable real-time data transfer and monitoring.
Last updated: May 26, 2016