When it comes to making governments accountable to their people in a data-driven world, data is power. Data about elections is especially important, and activists around the world are calling on their governments to provide it to their citizens.
The National Democratic Institute (NDI), a nonprofit organization working to strengthen democratic institutions worldwide, has launched, with support from Google, the Open Election Data Initiative.
Michelle Brown, senior adviser for NDI’s elections team, says it’s important for citizens to know much more than just the number of votes the candidates received. “Electoral boundaries, the ballot qualification, campaign financing, voter registration results. Those are super important parts of the process,” Brown explained, and governments that want to be seen as open must make it available.
NDI has identified nine qualities that election data must have to be considered open. Among them, the data must be complete, available for free on the Internet, formatted so that it can easily be analyzed and license-free.
But the two most important factors, Brown said, are timeliness (how quickly the data is made available) and granularity (how specific it is). “Releasing results at the polling-station level is so crucial for people to have confidence in the process,” Brown said. She pointed to South Africa and Kenya as two African countries that have made great strides in providing thorough and timely election data.
In many countries, data collected by electoral management bodies is, by law, public. When governments make that data easily available to citizens, they:
- Increase transparency by giving citizen-led monitoring groups information on registration and polling.
- Increase voter participation by making it possible to identify areas of low participation, allowing civil society groups and campaigners to work at increasing voter turnout.
- Make elections more inclusive by identifying marginalized groups and ways to remove barriers to their voting.
- Reduce political tensions by offering verifiable information on vote counts and electoral procedures.