Texting for Democracy

One reason last Sunday’s elections in Ghana went off without a hitch? Cell phones.

The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (Codeo), made up of Ghanaian civil society groups, is using mobile phones to provide what it believes will be a near perfect view of the conduct of the polls and the results.

The system works like this: volunteers with mobile phones monitor a representative sample of 1,000 out of some 21,000 polling stations. As voting gets under way, they send text messages containing data on the conduct in their polling station to a toll-free number. A cheat-sheet lists the codes. For example, a text containing “D1” means “ballot box missing”.

Mobile-based schemes have been used to monitor votes in Indonesia, Montenegro, Egypt and Sierra Leone in recent years, but the developers say Ghana has the most sophisticated version yet deployed. Codeo volunteers hope the SMS-based scheme can be replicated elsewhere to prevent incumbents leaning on electoral officials to bump up their tallies.


After counting finishes at each centre, the monitors send the results via SMS to allow a computerised tally of the outcome. “You can confidently come up with results that are 95 per cent reliable,” says Ms Potakey. “It’s a big deterrent to politicians because all eyes are watching.”

And all fingers are texting. That’s democracy.