October 10, 2014

Elections 2014: Better Late Than Never - On Transparency


I guess better late than never, as the saying goes. Several partners, among them some universities, some ngos, some research institutes and other organizations have gathered together to present the Bolivian electorate two websites where they can inform themselves about the October 12 elections, the candidates and what is going on during election day.

It sounds good. I just ask myself why now? It is Friday 10, two days before the elections. Don't the electorate need such digital tools much before the elections? All I can say, is good try.

Here is one of the sites: voto informado Bolivia. The title translates to a very promising, informed vote for Bolivia. It is very poorly designed site. I wish they'd saved themselves the trouble. While you can obtain all the names of all the candidates (10 president and vice president, 72 senators and 260 deputites, primary and alternates, 18 representatives to supra national assemblies) running for election, in many cases that is all you will get. Of course, the presidential candidates are featured prominently. As you land in the site you see a dynamic row with the pictures of all candidates for president and vice president. However, once you click on one picture (thinking you'll get some info on the person), all you get is a short paragraph on them. It is really disappointing. Also prominent on the home page is a search field where you are prompted to enter a department name. However, once you do that you get the lists of the candidates for that geographic area. Many of the profiles don't even have a picture and when you click on a person you mostly get the gender, party, age and the name. That is all!

The other web site is: yo reporto Bolivia. This site, which translates to I report Bolivia, is a bit more useful. It has the motto voto informado y transparente, plataforma ciudadana, which, in light of what I am highlighting in this post, I am not sure whether it is entirely wishful thinking or only half of it. The motto translates to a citizens' platform for an informed and transparent vote. The main objective of the site is for citizens to report whatever they want to report on the day of the elections. Citizens can call, sms, twitt, and submit reports. Citizens can also sign up to receive alerts. So, the web site works as follows. A citizen reports what is going on in a voting precinct, be it he thinks it is something irregular or if she want to show the interior of a voting precinct or if he or she wants to take a picture of his or her vote. Anyone online can go to the website and in a geo-tagged map can follow the incident or observation or picture. Something similar to this was available last elections and proved for me to be very useful and, at the same time, very interesting in terms of digital or even liquid democracy.

However, and this is a very big however, the elections office or court prohibited two days ago the use of any electronic device in the voting precincts. That means people cannot report incidents or take pictures or make videos of what is going on in a voting precinct. The elections office argues it wants to guarantee the secrecy of the vote.

Well, that is it. Two days before the elections Bolivians get two pretty much obsolete web sites which could have been very interesting had they been published much earlier. Though, the second might have something interesting after all. I will give it a look or two on Sunday.