Formal election monitoring involves appointed observers recording and reporting remote observations over the duration of the election and analysts promptly issuing conclusions based on studying these observations. However, the use of information technology and particularly social and mobile technologies during elections has become quite prominent across Africa. Technology has been used to monitor elections, solicit feedback from citizens on issues pertinent to their nation at times of elections and even provide capabilities to manage crises that occurs following election result disputes. SMS and voice-based reporting schemes have been employed to keep an eye on polling stations and undertake public opinion polls. Other methods have also been utilized; crowd-sourcing, social media and interactive mobile applications to collect data directly from voters as well as new mapping technology which allows the presentation of voting statistics in cutting edge formats. These developments set the stage for a significant reduction and possibly outright elimination of election fraud in Africa.

In 2011, during Egypt’s first post revolution parliamentary elections, a couple of civil society groups launched project Rakeeb in partnership with Advance Computer Systems, for the purpose of screening and monitoring the elections. Observers at polling stations used their cell phones to send text messages about what they witnessed to a data center, where specialists then processed and mapped the reports. This provided the people a much more real update during the elections. The effectiveness of election monitoring in checking electoral fraud using tech innovations was ascertained in an experiment carried out by Clark Gibson during the 2011 Ugandan presidential campaign. Based on  a sample of 1000 polling stations scattered all around the country, letters were sent to half the sample reminding them about their requirement to display vote tallies and telling them that a photo would be taken of their count. Using a special app developed by Qualcomm, the researchers sent their data to a server and checked to see if the voting numbers have been falsified by looking for giveaway number patterns. It was discovered that vote tampering and ballot box theft were much lower among polling stations that had received warning that a photo will be taken of their tally than among those that did not.

Another success story in the use of technology at election period is the Kenyan Ushahidi, a simple alternative to mainstream media that crowd source information from ordinary citizens using simple text messaging. Ushahidi has been used multiple times during elections in Kenya covering the entire span of events from pre to post-election. Over time they have expanded their portfolio to other technologies which enables scanning, filtering and verifying real time data from sources such as twitter and SMS.

Also in Nigeria, PolicyNG.com launched www.ireportelection.com a platform aimed at enhancing election transparency through citizen mobile engagements. The platform has its own dedicated android mobile application that give users the privilege to directly post raw election figures which will reflect on the platform’s live-feed page (www.ireportelection.com or www.polls.policyng.com) as real-time figures from various election polling centers. This new innovation will be useful to political parties and organizations that intend to monitor elections of their interest at all levels of government – this is particularly helpful given the level of tension that pervades the country as election results are contested. Platforms such as www.ireportelection.com eliminates the windows for election rigging and manipulation while preserving the integrity of the entire monitoring process as the mobile app will be distributed on terms and agreements that will ensure the validity of uploaded election figures  even for tribunals in the future.

Given the significant growth in social media on the continent and the viral nature of information on social media channels, elections in Africa will be forced towards credibility. The spread of more and cheaper wireless technology and more off-the-shelf apps will increase government accountability and more importantly embolden the people in their demand for free, fair and credible elections because the comradeship on these social media channels continue to grow stronger.

- @oobaremi