The announcement of the general elections has given rise to a battle of ‘texts’ and ‘characters’ across the social media platforms. Political parties are increasingly using this platform as a campaign tool to reach out and monitor voters. While parties and citizens are making the best use of the Internet, it can be used as a tool to also monitor electoral violence and violations.
Crowdsourcing has been an effective tool to increase democratic transparency and map electoral violations. Kenya in 2011 and Ukraine in 2012 have successfully implemented the idea of crowd mapping of their elections. Crowd mapping can be developed in any platform and voters with access to the Internet can log in to indicate the location of electoral violence or disruption. Violence and a violation of rules have happened in Indian elections. According to a UN report, there were 52 deaths during the 2009 polls. Along with vulnerability mapping, which pre-empts electoral violence, crowd mapping could emerge as an effective electoral monitoring tool for the elections. The use of data and technology is not a new phenomenon in Indian elections. A study by Michael Scharff of Princeton University reveals that in 2009 the Election Commission used vulnerability mapping to decide the deployment of the security forces and polling stations were ranked depending on their sensitivity.
Initiating crowd mapping with vulnerability mapping could further ensure free and fair polls. Usually, in electoral disruptions like not being able to cast votes, slow moving lines and booth capturing, wronged voters don’t know how to reach out for support. In the absence of an immediate remedy, they find themselves dejected. Access to crowd mapping has the capacity to empower the voters. It could be a discrete technique to report violent and nonviolent polling disruptions.
The Kenyan and Ukrainian polls suggest that the increase in access to crowd mapping in reporting political violence and fraud has resulted in a better electoral process. However, it would be far-fetched to assume that this initiative could be implemented without any challenge. As much as users of the social media are increasing in India, the country still has a vast majority with no or limited access to digital technology. We are yet to escape the reality of the digital divide and rural-urban gap, which are potential challenges to crowd mapping. Access to smartphones and the Internet is key to make this initiative successful.
In elections in India, the data from the crowd-sourced mapping could support the creation of a robust vulnerability map. In the era of big data and crowd-sourced information, these mechanisms can become a part of best practices in electoral reforms in India.
(Pallavi Guha is a PhD student of journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland. The views expressed by the author are personal.)