EYE ON YOU

Technology developed in Africa is helping Venezuelans keep their election fair

Ahead of Venezuela’s pivotal parliamentary elections on Dec. 6, journalists and civil groups are deploying digital tools developed in Africa to keep tabs on cheating.

Guachimán Electoral, or election watchman (link in Spanish,) is a crowdsourcing platform that is already collecting and mapping citizen complaints. Witnesses to irregularities—from the use of government funds to promote candidates to election-related violence—can report them on the Guachimán’s website, or via text message, Twitter or WhatsApp.

The project, which was created by non-profit Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Spanish) and several online news outlets, uses technology developed by coders in Kenya to monitor violence after the 2007 elections in that country. Called Ushahidi, which means testimony in Kiswahili, the tool helped record some 1,300 deaths at that time.

Venezuela hasn’t experienced anywhere near that level of election-related unrest in recent memory, and its voting system is considered fair, with Jimmy Carter even calling it the best in the world (minute 44:30) in 2012. Still, many Venezuelans are nervous about the potential for trouble because Sunday elections are the opposition’s first real chance to gain control of the national assembly since former president Hugo Chávez was elected in 1998.

And it doesn’t look like Chavistas are ready to let go of power. President Nicolás Maduro has said his party should guarantee a win in the elections whatever it takes (Spanish,) a term that has since become a hashtag among his supporters.

Over the past few months, his regime has been employing methods to undermine the opposition, including disqualifying candidates using controversial rules and creating confusing ballots, according to experts at the human rights-advocacy group, Washington Office in Latin America.

Maduro has also refused offers to oversee the elections by traditional international observers such as the Organization of American States, or OAS, saying they are untrustworthy. Instead, he’s invited the Union of South American Nations, an organization created by Chávez and other South American leaders that doesn’t enjoy much credibility among the opposition (Spanish) or others.

Meanwhile, Guachimán is keeping its record. So far, it has mapped more than 250 complaints.

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