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The Open Data Tool That's Getting Thousands All Over Africa to the Polls

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, August 28 2013

Screenshot of GoToVote! ZW

A “get out the vote” initiative that began in Kenya is spreading across Africa to countries like Ghana, South Africa and now Zimbabwe. On July 31, Zimbabwe's election day, thousands of voters knew where to go because of a simple online tool called GoToVote! ZW. It saved those citizens the usual hassle of searching for their polling station.

Sean Ndlovu helped modify GotToVote! Kenya's tool for use in Zimbabwe. He told the International Journalists' Network (IJNet) that it has always been a long process to find a polling place:

People might go to inquire at a nearby school, and there they would see a very long line, so they'd ask where another polling station is. They would be told to go to another place, maybe even just a certain tree or road.

The tool can be accessed online, on mobiles and tablet devices, although it is unclear whether it is available on all phones or only smartphones. Mobile penetration in Zimbabwe is at 35 percent, a significant portion but by no means the majority.

GotToVote! Kenya is a product of the data journalism project Code4Kenya, which is funded by the Africa Media Initiative.

Knight International Journalism Fellow Justin Arenstein is working with the African Media Initiative to implement data-driven and innovative journalism in newsrooms across the continent. He wrote about the original Kenya pilot program in November 2012.

Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) published the location of voter registration centers around the country for the first time on Monday - but they released this important information as a PDF, which is fairly large to download and really difficult for ordinary citizens to read. Even professional infomediaries, like media and civil society organisations [sic] who gather and organize information, would only ever use a fraction of the content of the PDF.

Our pioneering Code4Kenya initiative immediately realized that the information trapped in the PDF was just too important to ignore. So, Code4Kenya's lead developer David Lemayian and one of the initiative's Data Fellows, Simeon Oriko, got to work. First, they liberated the information, by scraping the data from the PDF into an interactive spreadsheet. Then, they built the simple GotToVote! website on top of it.

GotToVote! (Kenya) cost less than US$500 to build and implement, and yet in only a few hours more than 2,500 people visited the site for election information.

The data used for the online voting tools is all available on the Africa Open Data site, and the open source code is available on GitHub.

Election season in Zimbabwe has yet to come to an end this year. Runoff elections in three wards will take place on September 11, which means there is still time for voters to take advantage of GoToVote! ZW.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.