The Carter Center, long at the forefront of the election observation field, is working with students at Georgia Tech University to take the field forward again – using smartphone technology to streamline the observation process and compile the findings of observers in a fast, efficient, and transparent way.
The collaboration between the Center and Georgia Tech has been sustained for the past several years via the eDemocracy Vertically-Integrated Project (VIP) at the university. The students earn academic credit for the expertise they learn and apply by participating in the project.
"The VIP structure means that the same students work on a project for multiple semesters, up to three years," said Michael Hunter, research scientist with the Georgia Tech Information Security Center, who leads the VIP class. "Having that continuity really allows the project to develop into something meaningful. In this case, we've partnered with The Carter Center to provide technology with a purpose and that allowed the students to develop their skills along the way."
The smartphone technology takes the Center's current paper-based system of reporting by observer teams and modernizes it. Instead of observers calling to a base field office every few hours on election day to report their findings to a Carter Center employee, who transcribes the findings by hand into a database, observers will enter their findings into the smartphone and the entries, transmitted via SMS message with cryptographic verification, will automatically be added to a database. This not only saves time, but also allows for easier comparison of overall observer findings, which are a critical component of the Center's election statements.
"These students have been trained with all these geeky skills and most of the time, we end up applying those skills toward something that's not philanthropic," said Hunter. "There's a whole different level of satisfaction in creating something with more meaning, that can be used to enhance election observation in a developing country."
The smartphone technology will be tested during one of the Center's upcoming election observation missions.