Group crowdsourcing ballot-count results for public comparison

Ms Elina Ciptadi and Mr Ainun Najib are among the co-founders of Kawal Pemilu, one of a number of independent groups that have set up websites or mobile apps to monitor vote counting in the Indonesian polls this week.
Ms Elina Ciptadi and Mr Ainun Najib are among the co-founders of Kawal Pemilu, one of a number of independent groups that have set up websites or mobile apps to monitor vote counting in the Indonesian polls this week. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

After voting closes in Indonesia on Wednesday, teacher Didi Sumardi will be visiting polling stations around Serang city, in Banten province, to take photographs of the ballot count results posted on the walls.

He will then upload the photos onto crowdsourcing website KawalPemilu.org and the results will be manually tabulated so that the public can compare them with official tallies.

Mr Didi, 53, told The Straits Times: "My friends and I plan to go to 59 stations on foot and by motorcycle. We are ready to stay up all night to do this. It's very important for the sake of honest and fair elections."

He is among 7,000 volunteers who have signed up with Kawal Pemilu, one of a number of independent groups that have set up websites or mobile applications to monitor vote-counting in the world's third-largest democracy, which will be holding presidential and legislative elections simultaneously for the first time.

Led by Singapore-based data scientist Ainun Najib, Kawal Pemilu - or "Guard the Election" in Bahasa Indonesia - won public praise during the 2014 presidential election when it swiftly compiled open data released by the General Elections Commission (KPU).

The results were posted on its website, which was updated every 10 minutes by its then army of 700 volunteers.

The platform was built in a hurry by a programmer in a flat in Clementi, Singapore a day after both contenders - Mr Joko Widodo and Mr Prabowo Subianto - claimed victory on the election night of July 9, 2014, based on differing representative sampling polls, or "quick counts", recalled Mr Ainun, 33.

THIRD POWER

While we await official results, which are expected to take weeks, and prevent claims from opposing factions, we need independent institutions to act as a trustworthy third power.

MS LINA TJINDRA SINGAL, a spokesman for a group of activists, who has set up a vote-counting monitoring website called Kawal Pilpres 2019. Kawal Pilpres means "Guard the Presidential Election".

"Oh my God, how we scrambled. We took two days to build the system, another three days to get volunteers on board and an additional two days to finalise tabulation," he said. "We needed to give clarity to the nation. We announced the results in a week."

This was earlier than KPU's official figures released on July 22.

Kawal Pemilu's results were fairly accurate, recording 53.01 per cent of the valid vote for Mr Joko, against the official count of 53.15 per cent.

For this election, the group is again preparing to become "the backup plan for the nation", said Mr Ainun.

"Everything is online; we don't have to be in Indonesia. Any cafe with Wi-Fi is our office," said the father of three who has been living in Singapore for 16 years.

Mr Ainun, a computer engineering graduate from Nanyang Technological University, hopes to get the "critical mass of 10,000" volunteers to cover more than 800,000 polling stations across Indonesia.

"Once we hit 10,000, the referral network effect will snowball. It's super hard to get from zero to 10,000, but much easier from 10,000 to 800,000," he said.

Working together with election watchdog Network for Democracy and Electoral Integrity (Netgrit), Kawal Pemilu will go a step further this time around by having volunteers take pictures of original tabulations from individual polling stations.

 
 
 
 

"We know the sheer complexity of doing this. This time, we will need photos, which will ensure the authenticity of the numbers," said Mr Ainun.

Kawal Pemilu co-founder Elina Ciptadi, a social entrepreneur, believes that any effort to encourage citizens to participate actively in the country's political process must be supported.

"People go to polling stations and take selfies during the vote count. If they are only posting on social media, it's just for show. For us, that data is precious - why not just submit it to us so we can tabulate it?" said the 41-year-old.

The cost to maintain the website is negligible but could potentially run up to a few thousand dollars during the peak period, which begins on election day. The four co-founders of Kawal Pemilu will be paying the bill themselves.

Since its relaunch a month ago, the website has had around 50,000 new visitors, said Mr Ainun.

Netgrit co-founder and former KPU commissioner Hadar Nafis Gumay, 59, told The Straits Times: "Election results are sensitive public data. In a highly competitive election like this... public trust in monitoring activities is very necessary."

Ms Lina Tjindra Singal, 44, a spokesman for a group of civil society activists, has set up a similar vote-counting monitoring website called Kawal Pilpres 2019. Kawal Pilpres means "Guard the Presidential Election" in Bahasa Indonesia.

She said: "While we await official results, which are expected to take weeks, and prevent claims from opposing factions, we need independent institutions to act as a trustworthy third power."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'Group crowdsourcing ballot-count results for public comparison'. Print Edition | Subscribe