End Game and Larger Strategy
After promoting the quick count, building a volunteer network, training observers and setting up a data collection system, election day arrives. At headquarters, phones begin to ring, volunteers key in data, and analysts compile reports. At this point, organizers celebrate the technical success of the quick count. What is often underestimated, however, is the difficulty of the work that immediately follows—managing and releasing quick count results.
The strategic use of quick count results is the most sensitive phase of the project. The “end game” can also be the most controversial aspect of a quick count. Who should have access to the qualitative information? Who should get the projected election results? When and how should the information be shared?
This chapter suggests ways that groups might approach the end game. It describes a process for developing data use protocols, discusses the most common approaches to releasing results and describes specific activities that support a data use plan. This chapter concludes with a few words on how organizations that conduct successful quick counts work after elections to prepare for the future.
DEVELOPING A PROTOCOL FOR DATA USE
Many successful groups hold a pre-election meeting or retreat at which leaders, key staff and advisors can develop a protocol for releasing quick count results. Experienced groups with a strong, cohesive leadership facing a fairly predictable electoral situation may need only a short time for such a meeting. However, new groups struggling with internal factions and confronting a murky and problematic election day may need an entire day in a confidential setting to reach consensus on how, when and with whom to share quick count results. In any case, groups usually proceed through several steps to arrive at a data use protocol. They review the electoral context, revisit their original goals and create a draft election-day schedule.
Reviewing the Electoral Context
A discussion about managing quick count data should be preceded by a review of the electoral context. While many key staff and board members may be experts in election administration, electoral law, political campaigns, media coverage or international cooperation, it can be difficult to keep abreast of every development in every area. This is particularly true during the often action-packed run-up to elections. It is, therefore, best to briefly discuss the following areas concerning the electoral context:
- Administrative preparations—Are materials in place? Are polling station officials trained? Are counting centers properly outfitted? Have election officials held simulations to estimate the timing of voting procedures and the duration of the official counting process? How will authorities release the official election results (e.g., in real time on the Internet, at time intervals as preliminary results, not until a percentage of results are in)? Have authorities made any public statements regarding quick counts?
- The political environment—Are the candidates and parties expecting a fair process, and are they likely to challenge the outcome in the event they do not win? What election-day problems are the political contestants expecting, if any? Do political parties trust the independent quick count? Will they be doing their own quick counts?
- Polling data—How does the public view the process to date? What is the likely turnout? Are there any reliable opinion polls on election results? What is the status of public confidence in the process? Will citizens trust the official results and/or the quick count?
- The international community—Are international observer organizations present? Are any of them considered credible, and are any coordinating with national observers? Will diplomatic missions also report on the process? Are they prepared to play a role in providing external validation that the election satisfies the necessary minimal conditions of a genuine, democratic election?
Revisiting Quick Count Goals
It is important for groups to reaffirm the validity and appropriateness of their original quick count goals before finalizing data use decisions. The purpose of a quick count can impact how groups use results. Goals include:
- deterring fraud;
- detecting fraud;
- offering a timely forecast of results;
- instilling confidence in the electoral process;
- reporting on the quality of the electoral process;
- encouraging citizen participation;
- extending organizational reach and skills building; and
- setting the stage for future activities.
Creating an Election-Day Schedule
Setting out an election-day schedule helps develop a reasonable timetable for releasing qualitative and quantitative data. This is an important resource for staff responsible for running or supporting specific election-day activities. The schedule should highlight important external and internal milestones or activities, such as the following:
- officials and observers arrive at polling stations;
- voting begins and quick count observers leave polling stations to make their first call;
- the majority of Form 1 quick count reports (on the opening of the polling stations) arrive at the data collection center;1
- quick count analysts complete a first report on Form 1 data;
- group releases a report of quick count findings on installation of the polling stations at an estimated time;
- voting ends;
- minimum and maximum time it will take for votes to be counted at the polling station level;
- the majority of quick count Form 2 data (on the quality of the voting and counting processes, and the vote totals) arrives at the quick count center;2
- report completed on quick count Form 2 data, including projections of the election results;
- the electoral authorities tabulate and release official results (whether in real time, in increments or once totals are available); and,
- group releases qualitative data and quick count vote projections at an estimated time.
The Content of a Data Release Protocol
Now retreat participants are ready to turn to the specifics of a protocol that will govern how they release quick count results. Any data release protocol should answer at least five basic questions:
- Who will have access to quick count results internally, and when?
- Precisely what information will be available for release to outside sources?
- To whom will the data be released?
- When (estimated) will the information be shared?
- In what manner will reports be shared?
Experience shows that it is critical to establish ground rules for managing quick count findings within the organization well in advance of election night. Projections of election results, in particular, are vital data, and it is often best to limit internal access to this data to (1) the statistician who is generating and checking the results as well as preparing the graphics and (2) the executive director and designated members of the board of directors. Civic groups may take steps to ensure the security of quick count findings, including:
- explaining to all headquarters staff who will, and will not, have access to quick count data;
- banning all cell phones from headquarters on election night; and
- placing security guards at the main doors of the data collection center and at the analysis room.
In discussing how to share quick count results with outside sources, groups should consider first the legal framework. Are there any requirements or restrictions regarding “going public” (i.e., releasing the information publicly or privately to others)? In some cases, election law prohibits the release of any results by any group prior to the public announcement of the official results by the election commission.
Civic groups must also address the expectations of several groups and actors, including:
- electoral authorities;
- political contestants;
- affiliated non-governmental organizations;
- important civic and religious leaders;
- international observer missions; and
- the diplomatic community.
Many individuals or groups may request, or expect to have access to, quick count data. Quick count leaders must consider their responsibilities to each group, as well as advantages and disadvantages of sharing quick count results with them. For example, quick count organizers may acknowledge the legal obligation of election officials to provide accurate and timely election results, and they may feel obligated to allow reasonable amounts of time for this to take place before releasing quick count results. However, authorities should know that the group has completed an accurate quick count and is prepared to release results if fraud becomes apparent or an extended delay causes serious public concern. Political contestants have a right to an open, honest and competent electoral process; quick count organizers have a responsibility to inform all of the contestants, without discrimination, of their findings, including apparent fraudulent practices that may affect election results.
Funders may expect to receive quick count results. Therefore, quick count organizers and funders should hold open discussions before election day about strategies for managing qualitative and quantitative quick count data. Finally, quick count organizers must evaluate the role that civic leaders, the diplomatic community and international observer groups can play in achieving electoral accountability and share quick count findings with them accordingly.
A protocol provides a detailed framework for managing qualitative and quantitative information gathered during the quick count. Advance agreement can help ensure that the group’s internal election day operation runs smoothly. It also gives groups an opportunity to publicize and discuss plans with key audiences such as political parties, electoral authorities, funders, civic leaders, the international community and the media. This demonstration of transparency can promote better communication and cooperation with these audiences and increase the project’s overall credibility.
RELEASING QUICK COUNT DATA
Almost all groups release their quick count results publicly in two phases. First, they hold a midday press conference to share results from the morning report (Form 1). This is the early qualitative information, which provides hard data and attaches percentages to such questions as how many polling stations opened on time and how many received sufficient quantities of the required materials. This report provides officials, political leaders and other interested parties with an evaluation of how the process started, and at the same time it provides them with a reminder of the presence of observers.
A second press conference is held or a statement is released once the data has come in from the evening observer calls, after the quick count data have been processed and analyzed (Form 2). These data contain information on the quality of the process as well as the election results. Some groups plan to release all of the information to the public as soon as the reliability of the data is determined. Others release only the qualitative information to the public and the projected results are shared only with the election commission and/or individuals or groups that are pre-selected for their trustworthiness, neutrality and leadership.
Groups that decide to release all of their information to the public as soon as possible usually do so because they face no legal restriction regarding release of information. Groups that decide to release a limited amount of information to the public (usually the qualitative information) do so because they are prohibited by law from publicly divulging quick count results until either partial or full official results are released. Others are required by law to first provide information concerning numeric projections of results to electoral authorities. Still others make a determination that they are not interested in “beating the election commission to the punch.” Instead, they wait a reasonable amount of time for the election commission to release official results. Then they release quick count results to reinforce confidence in the election authorities.
Under some circumstances, quick count organizers release results publicly despite legal restrictions. This strategy might be followed because their qualitative information indicates that the process has been severely flawed, official results will most certainly be fraudulent, or it is believed that no official result is forthcoming.
Two crucial points should be made regarding election-day statements by civic organizations conducting quick counts. First, statements should NOT overemphasize data on election results. Responsible, well-crafted statements place information on numeric election results firmly within an analysis of the quality of the voting and counting processes. Second, statements should NOT solely focus on election-day events. Effective statements evaluate election-day events within the context of pre-election factors and the need to monitor post-election developments.
Once groups establish consensus on how they will manage and share election day data, they can prepare for the practical work required during elections. Certain pre-election and election-day activities can help groups play an effective and constructive role. They include:
- The election-day simulation—A successful simulation is the first concrete predictor of election-day success. The group can hold a press conference following the exercise to share the success, emphasizing the number of volunteers participating, the percentage of calls received of those expected and the capacity of the communication/data collection system to receive and quickly process the information. Alternatively, organizers can invite small groups to witness all, or parts, of the simulation. Funders, media representatives, electoral officials and any affiliated nongovernmental organizations are often particularly interested in seeing the event. Of course, security issues must be contemplated before inviting anyone to observe a simulation.3
- Role-plays for the board of directors—As the final phase of the quick count simulation, usually held two weeks prior to an election, leaders can participate in role-plays during which they are confronted with various election-day scenarios. Scenarios may include significant problems in the quick count operation, problems in the voting and counting processes and different projections of election results. The leadership treats these situations as “real life” and attempts to develop public statements characterizing quick count findings in each case. They may also practice releasing quick count results by holding simulated press conferences.
- A final promotional campaign—Some groups save resources to mount a media campaign close to elections. This is particularly effective in countries where political ads are prohibited for a period immediately before elections. Promotional advertisements often take on a character of promoting peaceful participation as well as raising awareness about the quick count.
- A final round of meetings—Leaders should visit electoral authorities, candidates or political party representatives, members of the local and international press and representatives from influential diplomatic and international observer missions. This is a final opportunity to build credibility and collect relevant information before election day.
Briefings and tours—Many groups demonstrate transparency by providing key audiences a chance to see the quick count data collection center and ask questions regarding the technical system or the plan for releasing information. Allowing key stakeholders to see the data collection system can markedly increase their trust in the eventual quick count results. Of course, this type of activity may be impossible where there are serious security concerns.
- Briefing materials—Groups should consider distributing information packets on the organization and its quick count, which can be particularly interesting to international observers and media who arrive in a country close to elections.
- Election information center—Some groups establish a drop-in center where groups or individuals can collect information on the quick count, the electoral process and the country. When possible, resources such as phones, computers, televisions and comfortable chairs are provided, particularly on election day.4
- General networking—Many groups exploit election-related public events to collect information on the process and promote the quick count. Such events may include: candidate debates; roundtables or dialogues on election-related themes, often sponsored by non-governmental organizations; and pre-election press conferences held by political parties, electoral authorities or other election observation missions.
- Press statements and conferences—All groups communicate to the public several times on election day. This is generally done through written statements, press interviews or, most commonly, press conferences. (See Figure 8-1 for helpful hints on holding press conferences to release quick count findings.)
When Rapid Post-election Action is Needed
While it is hoped that election-day procedures all run well, this is too often not the case. The period immediately following an election often becomes more tense than the lead up to election day, and election monitors must be prepared for protracted activities, irrespective of the demands of successfully concluding an election day quick count. Figure 8-2 describes the human and financial resources that must be placed in reserve.
The work of compiling, analyzing and reporting information does not end with an election-night or next-day press conference. Many groups take on observation work beyond the quick count. They monitor the resolution of complaints, the announcement of final results, the taking of office by rightful winners and the reactions of key individuals and institutions (e.g., winning and losing candidates, the government, military and the media).5 Often, they release a series of press statements on these processes.
During the post-election period, many groups must turn to the work of compiling and analyzing information obtained from non-quick count observers and regional or municipal coordinators. This may be presented in interim reports if the immediate post-election situation is controversial and in a final report—a comprehensive evaluation of the election process with specific recommendations for its improvement.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Groups undertake a host of post-election activities, in addition to writing and distributing final election observation reports. Leaders and staff document lessons learned, thank volunteers and, if they are planning for future activities, consolidate ties between leaders and volunteers. The post-election period also is a time when the board of directors and key staff summarize their unique insights into the election process. They may consider activities to promote electoral reform or other projects to promote or strengthen democracy.
Unfortunately, quick count funding typically ends soon after an election; therefore, post-election activities often must be conducted even as staff are tired and major staff reductions are looming. The effort is, nevertheless, crucial to the success of future activities. It is important to involve each functional team (e.g., media, technical, administration, volunteer coordination and other areas, such as legal analysis)6 so that valuable information is not lost. The following outlines activities typically undertaken by each functional team and the organization’s leadership.
The Media Team
- Lists best practices for developing relationships with the media, electoral authorities, candidates, donors, diplomatic community and international organizations. Develops a contact list for future networking.
- Compiles, evaluates and stores all materials used to promote the quick count.
- Collects evidence of the quick count’s impact on the electoral process and how it affected public attitudes toward electoral authorities, political contestants, civic groups and government (e.g., through documenting news coverage, collecting public opinion survey information and conducting periodic interviews with key individuals).
The Technical Team
- Sums up lessons learned regarding the application of statistical methods to the voting, counting and tabulation processes.
- Recommends future activities requiring the application of statistical methods (e.g., verifying the accuracy of voter registries, assessing the proper delineation of election districts or analyzing media coverage of political parties and issues).
- Documents how communications and information technology were used to (1) rapidly transmit information to and from large numbers of people and (2) efficiently organize, store and retrieve that information.
The Administration Team
- Documents effective mechanisms for working with numerous donors and managing funding for large-scale, time-sensitive programs.
The Volunteer Coordination Team
- Holds post-election debriefing sessions for observers, regional coordinators and communications volunteers to explain the nature of the group’s longer-term structure, activities, and possibilities for involvement. Gives volunteers an opportunity to provide feedback regarding the future nature and role of the organization.
- Establishes mechanisms for future communications with volunteers (e.g., setting up a database, providing contact information, publishing newsletters).
- Compiles, evaluates and stores all training and observation materials.
Legal Analysis Team
- Documents knowledge about the legal framework for elections and its implementation; the electoral environment and opportunities for political competition; the ability of citizens to make informed choices without being intimidated or improperly influenced; and voter turnout, voting patterns or other background information.
- Helps group to raise awareness about election-related problems (e.g., by holding roundtables or other events with political parties, candidates, electoral authorities, the media and other civic organizations).
- Helps group to make recommendations and advocate for needed reforms.
Leadership (Board of Directors, Executive Director and Key Staff)
- Holds a retreat or series of meetings to process and evaluate the quick count project.
- Reviews reports and recommendations made by the functional teams and considers feedback from volunteer coordinators and observers.
- Makes basic decisions about the future in light of pre-existing plans for longer-term activities (e.g., whether to continue as an organization, how to structure the organization, what activities to pursue, how to pursue financing).
Successful quick counts demonstrate the vital role that civic organizations (and political parties) can play in promoting electoral accountability. In most countries where quick counts have been successful, groups emerge with high public profiles, reputations for integrity and competence, strong national volunteer networks, substantial knowledge of the political process and enhanced organizational capacity. Some organizations disband after elections, others go dormant between elections. Many, however, continue to play a central role in their country’s political process, taking on activities such as advocating for electoral reform, promoting accountability in government and educating citizens about democracy. In this sense, the long-term impact of a quick count goes far beyond election-day reporting and includes the sustained involvement of citizens and organizations in a country’s democratic development.
1, 2 See Chapter Five, Statistical Principles and Quick Counts; Chapter Six, The Qualitative Component of the Quick Count; and Chapter Seven, Collecting and Analyzing Quick Count Data for detailed information on Forms 1 and 2 and the manner in which data from the forms are collected.
3 See Chapter Two, Getting Started, for a more detailed description of a quick count simulation.
4 In Nicaragua, Ethics and Transparency opened an information center geared toward the needs of visiting and domestic press. The pamphlet used to inform the members of the press about the quick count project appears in Appendix 11.
5 See NDI’s Handbook, How Domestic Organizations Monitor Elections: An A to Z Guide, for more specific information on monitoring post-election developments.
6 See Chapter Two, Getting Started, for detailed information on functional teams, their composition and responsibilities.