Promoting a PVT/Quick Count
A quick count can be a technical success yet a public relations failure. All of the hard work is for naught if key audiences—civic leaders, political parties, electoral authorities, the international community and others—do not view the organization or the results as credible. When influential groups doubt either the motives of the organizers or the validity of the data, the quick count’s contribution to the election-day process is marginal to negative. For this reason, building credibility must be a priority for every group planning a quick count.
This chapter is about promoting the quick count during the pre-election period so that it is technically successful and recognized as credible.1 It discusses how to build support among key audiences, addresses the most commonly raised concerns about quick counts and offers best practices for publicizing the project.
Most organizations form a media team to garner support for the quick count project and establish the organization as an independent voice for civil society—an organization above the partisan fray, working for a fair process rather than for a particular result.2 The election commission, of course, is at the center of this process. Figure 3-1 illustrates the relationships managed by quick count promoters, beginning with the election commission and working outward toward the general public as the project progresses.
RELATIONS WITH ELECTORAL AUTHORITIES
Election commissions often view the presence of election observers with suspicion; many are particularly resistant to independent vote counts. It is in the interest of quick count organizers, however, to forge a cooperative relationship with electoral authorities. Electoral authorities can provide access to important information, such as the complete list of polling stations (needed to draw a statistical sample of polling stations) or models of official voting and counting materials (helpful to design quick count observer forms). The election commission also has the power to decide who does and does not get access to polling stations and counting centers.
Quick count organizers should establish an open channel of communication with electoral authorities early in the planning process. It is helpful for leaders to assure authorities that election monitoring activities are complementary to those of the election commission. Quick count leaders can reinforce this position by demonstrating transparency, sharing quick count plans and methodology—the only details that should not be shared are those that deal with the precise sample size and the locations of the sample points.
It is helpful to ascertain and directly address the specific concerns of an election commission at the outset. For example, officials may express concern that quick count organizers will undermine the election commission’s authority by publicly releasing results. These concerns are not totally unfounded, but they can be managed. There is nothing lost, and much to be gained, for example, if organizers publicly express their willingness to support the efforts of the election commission and acknowledge that the election commission has sole authority to release official results.3
Electoral law in many countries recognizes the right of citizens to observe elections, which is part of the right to participate in governmental and political affairs. This right, in many instances, is based on constitutional provisions and international obligations and can be recognized by pronouncements or regulations of electoral authorities even if the law is silent on the matter. Often, election commissions also promulgate observer rights and responsibilities in a set of standards or a code of conduct.4
It is common for election observers to be required to present proof of legal authorization (accreditation) as they enter polling stations. Some election commissions approach this task by granting a letter of authorization to observer groups that meet established criteria. The groups, in turn, distribute the letter to their volunteers. In some countries, however, civic organizations work in conjunction with electoral authorities to produce individual observer badges, or credentials.
The time and effort needed to guarantee observer access to the polling and counting stations is always underestimated. Civic groups must begin the application process very early. The case of the Dominican Republic illustrates just how difficult the process can be, particularly for a group conducting its first quick count:
In 1996, the civic group Citizen Participation (PC) faced a hostile election commission. The commission saw PC as a threat and resisted giving them observer credentials to enter the polling stations on election day. In fact, PC had to turn to the international community for help in persuading the election commission to release credentials. When the commission finally did grant permission for the group to observe the process, it argued that it was too busy to prepare credentials for the whole group. Then, twenty-four hours before the polls opened, the commission announced that it would require the inclusion of a signed photograph for each observer’s credential. This created a major lastminute problem in PC’s production and distribution of credentials.
It is instructive to note just how much circumstances changed in the Dominican Republic once the civic organization, PC, had gained experience and credibility among electoral authorities. By the 1998 elections, the relationship had improved significantly. Recently, the election commission asked PC for its assistance in training polling station officials. This type of progressively improved relationship is common between civic groups that observe elections and election authorities around the world.
Absent official authorization, access to observe the election process is uneven at best. Groups should avoid attempting to conduct quick counts by acquiring the information second-hand, such as through political party representatives. This approach can compromise the quick count because the groups cannot attest to the quality of the voting and counting processes, nor can the group prevent collusion among parties. Alternatively, groups can station observers outside polling stations to rapidly report on a number of qualitative aspects of election-day developments. For example, such observers can measure voter turnout against official reports, which in some instances is a critical indicator of whether or not official results are credible.
A significant challenge to a quick count may arise when election observation is not contemplated in current law and authorities believe it to be illegal. In this case, quick count sponsors may lobby for a revision in the law, a new regulation, a special decree or other document guaranteeing the right to observe. The objective should be to obtain a law containing the broadest possible language granting access to all aspects of the process. Many groups have offered authorities help in drafting a new law or regulation and have provided model laws and regulations from other countries where observers enjoy broad freedom to operate.
While lobbying for the rights of election observers and soliciting observer credentials, quick count organizers should keep in mind the perspective of electoral authorities. Understanding electoral officials and empathizing about their challenges can facilitate solutions that meet the needs of all concerned.
The executive director should dedicate significant time to the relationship with the election commission, but she or he must also work with board members to build bridges to other key groups. These groups include:
- candidates and political parties;
- civic leaders, particularly those who work on similar programs;
- members of the local and international media;
- quick count donors;
- key international election observer and diplomatic missions.
The usual strategy is for quick count organizers to carefully assign representatives to set up formal meetings with these groups and to build alliances that will support the group in difficult times. There are several additional techniques for keeping audiences informed and supportive. They include:
- sponsoring roundtable discussions, debates or conferences;
- disseminating written letters or reports;
- offering training events, such as a workshop on local elections for international donors or quick count methodology for journalists;
- holding tours of the quick count facilities during simulations; and
- creating independent advisory boards with key audiences, such as political parties or NGOs, and holding periodic meetings to inform and receive feedback.
Each meeting or event should have a specific objective. For example, quick count leaders may seek financial support or help in persuading electoral authorities to release credentials. In general, representatives should always demonstrate the organization’s capacity, independence and commitment to transparency. They should model transparency by presenting, in a general way, their progress in technical and organizational matters. They may also share training materials, such as observer checklists, and ask for feedback when appropriate.
By providing information to key groups in the pre-election period, quick count organizers demonstrate confidence in the methodology. The messages are powerful: “We have nothing to hide.” “We know what we are doing.” “We are happy to discuss any of the details about methodology with you and your experts.” Of course, organizers cannot discuss the precise sample size or the location of the sample points to prevent outside interference in the quick count.
Answering the Skeptics
The context and circumstances surrounding each quick count is different. It is impossible to anticipate and prepare for all of the questions that will be asked of quick count organizers. But some concerns are repeatedly raised in almost every country. Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions and suggested responses to alleviate concerns:
Is a quick count legal?
- Point out provisions in the election law for nonpartisan organizations or citizens to observe elections. If no provisions exist, share copies from other countries and note constitutional provisions and international obligations that recognize the right of citizens to participate in governmental and public affairs and the right to democratic elections—from which election observation derives.
- Relate accounts of successful quick counts that have taken place in the region or other parts of the world.
- Mention that several international human rights instruments recognize the universal right of people to participate in their government by monitoring elections. (See Appendix 4)
Is your group credible; i.e. can you do this?
- Provide information on the quick count leaders and sponsors as well as the qualifications of your staff.
- Explain basic quick count goals and methodology.
- Make training materials and quick count checklists public to highlight their professional quality, legal accuracy and objective design.
Is your group neutral? How can anyone be sure that you do not have a partisan political agenda?
- Demonstrate that leadership and staff are not currently partisan activists.
- In cases where some group members have a reputation for partisanship, take care to show that the membership, taken as a whole, is politically balanced.
- Explain your commitment to recruiting volunteers not currently involved in partisan politics or actively supporting any candidate.
How do we know your volunteers, even those you have not yet recruited, will be neutral?
- Share a copy of a “neutrality pledge” signed by all quick count participants.
- Share the training manuals and highlight the fact that volunteers are uniformly trained regarding the role and responsibility of an observer.
- Share the quick count checklists. Explain that you are collecting objective data that is not subject to interpretation.
- Invite concerned individuals to observe training programs and the simulation.
If we have invited international observers, why do we need local observers?
- Point out that, in many places, it is a matter of national pride for domestic election observers to exist alongside international election monitors.
- Discuss how election observation and quick counts are a tool to build public participation in elections.
- Discuss the practical advantages of domestic organizations observing – they are present for the entire pre-election, election-day and post-election periods and they have better scope and coverage to implement a quick count.
- Argue that local citizens have the right to participate in their government and organize to hold officials accountable.
- Ask the international community to state the view that it would be a positive development if electoral authorities welcome and support a domestic organization planning a quick count.
How can we prevent unnecessary confusion in polling stations or counting centers with too many observers?
- Point out provisions in the current law for local officials to maintain order inside the polling stations and counting centers.
- Ask for feedback and make revisions to your volunteer training materials to reflect their concerns.
- As a last resort, offer to discuss the drafting of additional legal guidelines, such as a code of conduct for quick count observers.
How can we trust your results when you got them from a few hundred or thousand polling stations?
- Utilize this manual to explain the effectiveness of random sampling.
- Offer to schedule a formal or informal briefing with a statistician or quick count adviser.
- Remind them that a few hundred polling stations actually represent hundreds of thousands of voters!
- Provide concrete examples of the accuracy of quick count results in other countries.
Can we be sure that you will not manipulate the data at the central level, to arrive at a desired result?
- Invite concerned individuals to a quick count simulation to witness the communications and data processing systems (if security systems allow).
- Offer to place an advanced copy of your sample with a trusted individual, such as a religious official or international observer.
- Offer to make public three or more samples, one of which you will be using on election day.
THE MEDIA CAMPAIGN
Organizations that are new, little-known, or have other credibility issues should prioritize a media campaign. A media campaign raises awareness about the quick count, attracts volunteers to work on the project and answers any public criticism leveled at the group.
Education is an important component of a group’s work with the media. Members of the media rarely know what a quick count is, yet they are uniquely placed to promote, or undermine, confidence in the methodology. Quick count organizers often find it useful to hold seminars about quick count methodology for journalists, publishers, editors and owners of media outlets.
The publicity mechanisms used by quick count groups primarily depend on the amount of time and money available. Groups with image problems and little time available to correct the problem, or those facing a serious crisis (such as an attack in the media or the inability to obtain access to polling stations) may opt to use paid advertising. Paid advertising through the mass media, including TV, radio and newspapers, allows a group to control the content and reach a large number of people quickly. However, it can be expensive, and in some countries access may be limited.
Most groups do not have the resources to rely primarily on paid media exposure and need to creatively exploit opportunities for free or low-cost publicity. Some of the following methods are used to get media coverage:
- press releases—one-page notices that publicize an organizational opinion or an event of interest to viewers, readers or listeners;
- high-profile events—such as training programs, visits from international experts, meetings with well-known personalities;
- press conferences—tied to significant dates or activities and timed well, considering journalists’ deadlines, competing news events, etc.;
- articles and letters to the editor submitted to the print media; and
- public service announcements (PSAs)—most often produced for radio.
1 While this chapter discusses how to build credibility while planning and organizing a quick count, Chapter Eight, The “End Game,” offers techniques for consolidating credibility and using quick count data during the period immediately surrounding election day.
2 Two or more organizations may work jointly or form a coalition to conduct a quick count, but the
need for the quick count project to establish its credibility remains the same.
3 See Chapter Eight, The “End Game,” for a discussion of approaches to releasing quick count results.
4 Appendices 3A - 3D contain an election law, an election regulation and two codes of conduct regarding
domestic election observers; and Appendix 4 is a compilation of excerpts from human rights instruments
that apply to citizens’ rights to monitor elections.