Getting Started with a PVT
The success of a quick count hinges on groundwork laid early in the project. This chapter discusses the work that needs to be done in the first weeks of a quick count project. The key building block tasks are:
- recruiting leaders and staff;
- developing strategic plans; and
- designing budgets and fundraising.
The tasks for quick count staffing, planning and fundraising are the same for newly formed and established groups. Established groups have the advantage of being able to shift experienced staff to the quick count project. However, because quick counts are very time-consuming, particularly in the four to six months leading up to an election, it is generally a bad idea to ask staff members to divide time between the quick count and other projects.
While in crisis situations quick counts have been organized in very short timeframes, nonpartisan organizations conducting quick counts are advised to begin planning and fundraising about one year before an election.1 Volunteer recruiting should start approximately eight months before the election, particularly for groups that do not have, or cannot tap into, existing networks. Planners must assume that they will need volunteers in every region of the country, regardless of how remote or difficult to access. The work of the technical team should start soon thereafter since it can take several months to procure equipment and to put into place the necessary computer software and hardware and communications system.
This chapter stresses the importance of keeping politics in mind because organizing a quick count can draw support and/or opposition from political factions. It is never too early to think about this, as ignoring the political repercussions of decisions about how to organize, who to employ and other matters can seriously harm a quick count’s credibility. Common mistakes of this type include hiring individuals with partisan reputations or controversial pasts, and accepting donations from individuals or groups perceived to have political agendas.2 Even seemingly innocuous decisions can have a political impact, as the Nicaraguan organization Ethics and Transparency discovered when its observers were accused of partisan ties because their forms were printed with ink that was the same color as a political party’s propaganda. Moreover, the quick count can be seen as provocative or threatening to some political groups, particularly by those in government. Every effort, therefore, must be made to analyze the changing political landscape and ensure that the project is both impartial and widely perceived as impartial.
LEADERSHIP AND STAFF
The leadership and senior staff form a group that becomes the public face of the organization. This group, as a whole, must be viewed as credible. As discussed in Chapter One, credibility has two components: independence and competence. In order to be seen as independent, groups almost always exclude individuals with partisan political backgrounds. In addition, groups may seek to include representatives of various social groups to ensure actual and perceived political neutrality. It is crucial to structure leadership, staff and volunteers so that all sectors of the public, not just political elites, perceive the effort as credible. This means that women must be brought into key leadership, staff and volunteer roles. Appropriate inclusion of ethnic, linguistic, religious and other groups may also be important. To demonstrate competence, groups fill staff positions with individuals who are well-respected and who have reputations for being effective at what they do.
The Board of Directors
It is almost always advantageous to establish an oversight body, such as a board of directors, for a quick count project, whether the quick count is organized by a single organization or a coalition. Each organization should analyze the makeup and functions of the board of directors (also commonly referred to as the executive council or steering committee) before undertaking a quick count. The ideal board will:
- comprise several well-known and respected individuals;
- represent a cross-section of society, including civic activists, professionals, academics, businesspeople and religious leaders;
- possess geographic, racial, ethnic and gender balance; and
- be perceived as credible, independent and impartial by the majority of citizens and political players.
The duties of a board of directors vary among organizations implementing quick counts. If the staff is particularly experienced, the board may play a hands-off, advisory role. During a first election observation experience, an organization may prefer that the board participate more directly in day-to-day operations. The members of the board of directors usually take on several or all of the following:
- serve as a decision-making body on matters of project goals, policy and implementation;
- recruit and hire an executive director to oversee day-to-day project operations and advise on the hiring of additional personnel to carry out organizing and implementation;
- direct the organization’s external relations—build and maintain relationships with electoral authorities, government, political parties, the business community, civil society, donors and the international community;
- manage or assist the executive director with fundraising;
- serve as spokespersons and represent the group at public functions, press conferences and other media events;
- form committees to study important emerging issues, such as pre-election problems or legal rights of election observers; and
- authorize or approve public statements.
Groups should consider a number of factors when recruiting individuals for leadership or paid positions. These include:
- technical skill and experience;
- the quick count goals; and
- potential political implications.
The technical skills required for a successful quick count are similar for every country; they are included below in job descriptions. The goals of each quick count influence the general approach to staffing (e.g., a strong media campaign effectively publicizes the quick count, which helps to deter fraud). The political considerations for staffing are the same as those that apply to a board of directors. Groups may require political neutrality or seek political balance, and they may seek to represent various cultural, ethnic or regional groups.
Typically, the most experienced staff member from each functional team serves as a team leader. This facilitates decision-making and streamlines communications between teams.
The executive director and functional team jobs almost always require significant time commitments and/or specific technical skills and are, therefore, paid. Regional coordinators are usually not paid but take on the position with the understanding that all expenses will be reimbursed.
Financial considerations usually limit an organization’s ability to hire full-time people, particularly early in the project. Early in the planning and organizing process, each team may combine positions, delegate tasks to volunteers or enlist the help of members of the board of directors. Some examples of creative work assignments are:
an accountant takes on office management responsibilities;
- a volunteer manages the reception area;
- the statistician consults part-time;
- the computer specialist also designs the database system; and
- volunteer lawyers or professors design observer manuals and forms.
A number of factors, such as funding delays or secondary projects, can upset tight schedules and create significantly more work—and anxiety—in the months before an election. Some of the most common ways to increase productivity as elections draw near include:
- adding staff, which could include logistics specialists to procure telecommunications and computer equipment, or database managers to continuously update information on volunteers and produce credentials;
- forming mobile teams of trainers to complete or reinforce the training of quick count observers; and
- utilizing volunteers to assist with important projects, such as distributing press packets or supplies to the volunteer network.
Below are model job descriptions of the most important staff positions with corresponding duties and qualifications:
- Directs and executes the quick count plan.
- Recruits personnel and supervises the work of the functional teams, ensuring the efficiency and quality of the work.
- Manages the budget and assists the board with proposal writing and other fundraising activities.
- Monitors and analyzes all political issues affecting quick count implementation.
- Directs efforts to solicit and acquire accreditation for monitors to legally observe the voting, counting and tabulation processes.
- Advises the board of directors on external relations, provides the board with frequent progress reports on internal operations and alerts the board to potential problems.
- Represents the organization, with board members and staff as appropriate, at public and press events.
- A proven manager, preferably of a large volunteer organization.
- Unequivocal commitment to ensuring electoral integrity; election-related experience preferred.
- Reputation for professionalism and ability to be politically impartial.
- Maintains extensive contacts in the political and/or electoral communities.
- Possesses some experience with information technology.
- Willingness to work long hours in an extremely high-stress environment (project-driven).
- Shares in long-term vision of organization.
- Excellent organizational skills.
- Excellent communication skills.
- Responsible for general accounting, budget and subgrant activities.
- Maintains accounting oversight in accordance with donor agency regulations and standards.
- Serves as liaison between election monitoring organization and funding agencies on accounting-related matters.
- Periodically evaluates and informs executive director of the project’s financial status.
- Assists and advises the executive director and board of directors on proposal writing.
- A certified public accountant with experience working with large budgets.
- Experience working with a broad range of international funding agencies.
- A working knowledge of PC-based word processing, spreadsheet applications, accounting and finance-related software.
- Together with the board and executive director, develops the “message” of the overall project and for specific points as the project progresses.
- Develops a media strategy to generate publicity and promote an image of credibility and neutrality.
- Develops and maintains relationships with national/international media outlets, identifying opportunities to inform media of the organization’s work.
- If necessary, educates local and international journalists about quick counts.
- Creates and directs individual public relations approaches for key audiences.
- Provides advice and guidelines to the board, executive director, functional teams and regional coordinators for speaking with the media.
- Organizes press conferences for the pre-election period, the simulation, election day and the post-election period; designs, produces and provides press packets for all events.
- Provides information through press releases, newsletters and other materials to the media and everyone involved with the project (which promotes staff morale and helps keeps everyone “on message”).
- Significant experience in public relations or as a journalist.
- Knowledge of local and international media outlets.
- Exceptional analytical, oral and written communication skills.
- Ability to communicate in front of TV cameras or radio microphones (and to coach spokespersons).
- Designs a structure for a national volunteer network, recruiting regional coordinators and establishing regional offices (and, if necessary, local offices).
- Motivates regional and local leaders and assists with volunteer recruitment.
- Takes the lead on designing observer forms; coordinates with trainer, electoral law specialist and quick count software designer and vets forms with board of directors and executive director.
- Works in conjunction with regional coordinators and the computer engineer to design a structure for the election-day communications system.
- Serves as a liaison between the organization’s leaders and the grassroots network.
- Working with the logistics specialist, ensures that regional and local leaders receive needed resources such as training materials, observer checklists, observer identification cards and small budgets (when possible).
- Experience recruiting and organizing volunteers.
- Enthusiastic and energetic personality; willing to work long hours.
- Excellent communication skills.
- Experience with election-related work and sound political judgement.
- Familiarity with regions of the country outside the capital.
- Assists the volunteer coordinator to design observer forms.
- Designs all training materials, including manuals, visual aids, videos, handouts, etc.
- Designs a train-the-trainers program (or, if possible, schedules and delivers workshops) to ensure uniform and effective observer training.
- Assists database manager in developing a training program for telephone operators/data processors.
- If necessary, assists media specialist in designing a training program for journalists.
- Experience teaching and training adults.
- Enthusiastic and energetic personality; willing to work long hours and to travel.
- Experience designing educational materials.
- Experience with election-related work.
- Familiarity with regions of the country outside the capital.
- Coordinates and provides logistical support for headquarters staff travel.
- Creates systems and procedures for supporting the volunteer network.
- Procures and distributes all supplies to the volunteer network. Supplies include items such as money, training packets, observer identification cards and legal credentials, observer checklists, reports and updates.
- Coordinates all logistical aspects of conferences and special events held in the capital city, including securing program sites, accommodations and transportation.
- Provides relevant information to the computer engineer for possible improvements in the election-day communications system, based on communicating with the volunteer network.
- Coordinates logistics demand with organization budget (accountant).
- Experience working on logistics or event planning with broad-based civic organizations.
- Excellent organizational abilities and attention to detail.
- Working knowledge of PC-based word processing and spreadsheet applications.
- Establishes a regional office.
- Recruits quick count observers within geographical area of responsibility.
- May organize volunteers to divide responsibilities in a manner similar to headquarters: coordinator, accountant, volunteer recruitment and training, data collection and communications.
- Supervises regional observer recruitment and training in conjunction with national volunteer coordinator.
- Facilitates communication between headquarters and local volunteers.
- Assists national volunteer coordinator and computer engineer to design the regional piece of the election-day communications system.
- Responsible for deploying election-day observers around the region.
- Requests and distributes necessary material, supplies and information from headquarters. Collects and sends necessary materials and information to headquarters.
- Informs local electoral authorities, political players and the public of the organization’s activities (per guidelines from national headquarters).
- Represents the observer organization at regional public events.
- Respected regional leader with good contacts in civil society, business, politics and the media.
- Reputation for professionalism and ability to be politically impartial.
- Willingness to dedicate significant amounts of time to the quick count project.
- Experience recruiting and training volunteers.
- Excellent motivator.
- Advises the volunteer coordinator and trainer on designing observer forms to ensure each question is designed to facilitate data processing.
- Designs or acquires computer software to process information collected on quick count volunteer checklists.
- Designs or acquires computer software necessary to establish a database containing information on the hundreds or thousands of volunteers in the monitoring network and on polling stations contained in the sample.
- Creates and implements tools for data security (such as volunteer codes).
- Responsible for testing all software used to input, analyze and report election-day data.
- Works with the volunteer coordinator and computer engineer to recruit and train those who will receive and input quick count data (telephone operators/data processors).
- Coordinates activities with the statistician and election-day data analysts.
- A specialist in management information systems and computer science.
- Ability to define problems, collect data and draw conclusions.
- Experience in teaching and managing students or volunteers.
- Advises the volunteer coordinator and trainer on designing observer forms. Provides insight into the organization’s election-day ability to process certain volumes of information within desired time frames.
- Oversees the design and construction of a telephone and computer network to input, analyze and report election-day data.
- A specialist in management information systems and computer science.
- Ability to detect problems related to computer hardware systems and make adjustments.
- Experience in teaching and managing students or volunteers.
- Designs and draws a statistical sample of polling stations for the quick count.
- Provides explanations of sample design to executive director, functional teams and board of directors, as well as periodically at outside meetings.
- Provides input into strategies for analyzing and reporting election-day data.
- Communicates with the volunteer coordinator regarding strategies for recruiting and training volunteers in sufficient numbers, and in regions affected by the sample.
- Participates in a simulation to test the quick count communication, data processing and reporting systems, preferably two weeks before election day.
- Represents the organization at media events as appropriate, including media education events, a simulation day press conference and election day press conferences.
- Must be a well-regarded, formally trained statistician and social scientist.
- Experience with database management systems.
- Knowledge of relevant demographic data and trends.
- Ability to work, in coordination with international experts, in extremely high-stress environments.
- History of political neutrality.
Project planning skills are essential for quick count success. The most complex, time sensitive tasks are best planned in reverse order working backward from key dates. This forces a focus on the importance of meeting deadlines. It also encourages organizers to tailor activities to achieve objectives. This backward planning approach is described below in three steps—developing a “to do” list, creating a timeline and assigning responsibilities.
Step One: Creating a List of Important Events, Activities and Milestones
The first step to backward planning is to envision a successful election day. Then list important dates, milestones and activities that should precede this day.
Step Two: Plotting Activities on a Timeline
The next step in backward planning is to plot all activities on a master timeline. The master chart contains all major deadlines, events and activities leading up to and including the immediate post-election period and provides a powerful visual of the work ahead. Each functional team should develop its own timeline chart which is coordinated precisely with the master timeline chart. The charts should be the focal point for discussion at periodic all-staff meetings so that everyone at headquarters is aware of important events and any schedule changes.3
Step Three: Assigning Work
In addition to the master timeline, the executive director should work in conjunction with staff to divide up the work required to conduct each activity. It is crucial to delegate tasks wisely. Each activity requires tasks from more than one, sometimes all, technical teams.
Considerations for Strategic Timeline Planning
These timelines are invaluable tools, allowing organizations to approach a very complex project one activity at a time, while keeping end goals in mind. Investing time up front to plan allows groups to work more efficiently than if operating on a reactive, ad hoc basis and this reduces the risk of crises and failure. There are several things to keep in mind when using this technique:
- Remember the simulation—Most groups conduct a simulation of the entire quick count operation approximately two weeks before election day. It is important to keep this in mind while designing budgets, and while developing activity timelines and task lists. In effect, planners should treat the simulation as if it were election day. All activities to prepare for election day should be completed by simulation day, instead of by election day. (See the Frequently Asked Questions box below for more information.)
- Allow for miscalculations—Initial calculations of the time and resources needed to implement individual tasks are often optimistic. Significant time must be built into the timeline to allow for margins of error.
- Periodically review and simplify—The root word of logistics is logic. Quick count planning should be a logical process. Simplify all the elements of these activities to as rudimentary and functional a level as possible. Any system design that sounds too complex probably is.
- Remember the complexity/time/budget algorithm—As tactical elements increase in complexity they generally take longer (even if the complexity was supposed to shorten a process), and they cost more. Simple tends to be faster and almost always cheaper.
- Coordinate—The key to achieving maximum organizational capacity is coordination. Divided tasks have to be regularly coordinated because the work of some functional groups cannot begin until the work assigned to other functional groups has been completed.
Successful executive directors motivate board members and staff by involving them in the planning process. Board members and staff that feel ownership in the project are more likely to take initiative in their respective areas, and their morale is more likely to remain high even in stressful situations. There also are practical benefits to a democratic planning approach. Consulting staff is crucial to ensuring the feasibility of work plans. Engaged board members and staff understand and accept, in advance, the commitment required. Individuals familiar with the entire quick count operation can fill a wider variety of roles in the event of an organizational or political crisis.
Successful executive directors take every opportunity to praise staff for work well done. This may include certificates of appreciation, direct praise from board members, informal celebrations for reaching important milestones, even bonuses. Every effort to thank and otherwise support a staff that typically works long hours in a stressful environment is appreciated, and it is a practical investment in the project’s success.
BUDGETS AND FUNDRAISING
Developing budgets and fundraising for a quick count project pose significant challenges. An organization operating under tight deadlines needs to focus heavily and immediately on fundraising. After funding to cover estimated costs is secured, an unexpected event may force changes and increases. Two examples of events forcing groups to augment budgets are:
Electoral authorities release a last-minute addendum to the list of polling stations. Quick count organizers, therefore, are forced to increase the size of the sample, which in turn requires recruiting and training additional volunteers.
The volunteer coordinator reaches target numbers for recruits well before the election, and receives repeated pleas from local organizers to allow additional applicants to participate in quick count or general election day observation. Leaders decide to appeal to donors for additional support to accommodate a larger-than-expected number of observers.
The cost of conducting a quick count varies greatly. The most obvious determining factors are the size and infrastructure of a country. A quick count in a small country with a well-developed infrastructure costs less than one in a large country with poor infrastructure for transportation and communication. In addition, three design factors—speed, comprehensiveness and accuracy—directly impact cost:
- Speed—What are the goals for collecting and reporting data? If an organization needs the information fast, it must acquire more communication and data processing equipment.
- Comprehensiveness—How many polling sites will be covered? Greater coverage entails more volunteers, more training, higher election-day costs and more computers to process greater quantities of data.
- Accuracy—Given the political context, how accurate does the quick count need to be? If indications are that the race between two or more candidates will be very tight, the design should include more sophisticated communication and database systems. Smaller margins of error demand better, and more costly, systems.
The timing of drawing the random sample of polling stations directly impacts cost. The earlier the sample is drawn, the more organizers can potentially save on cost. Having the sample facilitates analysis of the location of the data points (polling stations) and streamlining of volunteer recruiting and training programs. The absence of key information, such as a final list of polling stations, precludes the drawing of the sample, and this forces groups to launch a less targeted, more comprehensive and more costly recruiting campaign.
Unless a group starts out with significant funding, a budget is the centerpiece of its proposals to potential donors. A reasonable budget balances quick count objectives with realistic expectations for funding. The initial budget may reflect plans to meet objectives without regard for funding limitations, the “perfect world” scenario. Leaders may need to modify or significantly alter these plans if the prospects for adequate total funding are dim. Leaders should approach prospective backers as early as possible to gather information about their interests and expectations. Funders should also be made aware of what are the trade-offs for modest, or generous, financial support.
Beyond its basic use for raising funds, the budget becomes an important point of reference for staff. It allocates funds to specific tasks. Anticipated categories for line items include:
- Paid Personnel (salaries and benefits)
- Office Expenses (fixed and recurring, for national and regional headquarters)
- Volunteer Recruitment (travel expenses and per diem for national and regional recruiters and meeting expenses)
- Volunteer Training (production of training materials, observer manuals and quick count forms; travel expenses and per diem for trainers and volunteer observers; and other meeting expenses)
- Communications/Database Management Systems (telephones, computers, printers)
- Election Day (transportation, per diem and telephone calls for observers; and transportation and per diem for national and regional headquarters volunteers, such as operators and data processors)
- Contractual Services (e.g., legal fees or advisors/consultants)
- Budget Management and Accounting
It is prudent to draft several budgets based on high and low projections. The size and scope of a quick count project can change during the run-up to elections. For example, an organization may change its policy on how many volunteers to recruit. Initially, it decides to cap the number of volunteers to equal or slightly surpass the estimated sample size. Then, more volunteers sign up than expected, and the group elects to include them. Larger objectives may also change as the election nears. For example, a group’s original intent might be to observe only in the number of polling stations needed to provide a margin of error of +/-3 percent for the quick count. As the election draws near, however, it looks like the race might end in a virtual tie. As a result, the number of polling stations observed must be substantially increased to reduce the margin of error to +/-1 percent or less.
One budget should reflect the cost of supporting the minimum number of volunteers required for the quick count and the least expensive communications and data processing systems. Second and subsequent versions should support larger numbers of volunteers, wider coverage and more communications and data processing equipment.
Once an organization designs a realistic quick count budget, it can initiate a fundraising campaign. Fundraising approaches commonly used by election observer organizations include:
Writing and submitting proposals to foundations and other donor institutions.
Directly soliciting contributions of money, goods and services by mail, telephone, through the media or in person;
Selling goods or services for profit, such as paraphernalia from the organization (t-shirts, buttons, posters); and
Sponsoring entertainment events, such as a formal dinner or musical concert at which you charge an entrance fee or request voluntary donations.
A fundraising approach can help build an organization’s credibility and a reputation for independence. Consider the following:
- Efficiency—An efficient fundraising and accounting operation reflects well on the credibility of the organization and may increase the likelihood of gaining financial support.
- Neutrality or Balance—It is a good idea to consider the reputation and political history of every potential backer, whether an individual, local or international organization. Leaders should seek financial support from politically neutral sources, or ensure that backers are politically diverse and balanced.
- Transparency—Publicizing funding sources can prevent suspicion and deny critics the opportunity to make unfounded allegations or start rumors about politically-motivated backers.
- Local v. International—Again, diversification is important, particularly for the long run. Local donors may have more of a stake in the success of a quick count. A local funding source may be more stable and reliable for groups planning to continue work after the elections. Receiving support from sources within the country may enhance the organization’s credibility among local political players and the international community. However, international institutions, including embassies, government aid organizations and nongovernmental organizations and foundations potentially offer larger sums of money. This is particularly true for institutions from countries that have significant economic, geographical or other ties to the country holding an election.
1 The 1989 Panamanian quick count was organized in five weeks but had the pre-existing resources and organizational structure of the Catholic Church upon which to rely. The quick count in Bulgaria was organized by BAFECR in approximately two months, but there was an unexpected democratic breakthrough in the country, which brought a great deal of enthusiasm domestically and attention from the international community. Most quick counts take six months to one year to organize in the first instance. Even six months has proven in several countries to be insufficient; for example, quick counts were dropped from monitoring plans by groups in Azerbaijan and Ghana due to a lack of adequate preparation time.
2 As noted above, political parties also must establish the credibility of their quick count efforts, if the results are to be perceived as reliable. Those who conduct the quick count operations for a party must do so on the strict basis of gaining accurate results. Employing outside, politically neutral experts to help design the quick count and review its implementation can help to establish credibility. The party can maintain control of findings, as with opinion poll data. Reliable quick counts allow the party to accurately assess election-day processes, which is important for making judgements about characterizing election results and about pursuing complaints.
3 Appendix 2A contains a work plan/timeline developed for a quick count in Nicaragua; appendix 2B shows a work plan developed in Indonesia.