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Fair Elections for Democracy Through Image Recognition Voting

The impact of election fraud is immense on developing countries- we are proposing a simple vote-reader that tackles the source of fraud.

Photo of Miroslava Kovacova
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Voting in Africa has faced many problems over the years. One reason for low voter confidence is that many African voters believe that they stand to gain little from voting due to the corruption in politics taking the upper hand. While one half of solving this problem is having legitimate parties run for election, the other half would be to assure the people that their votes do in fact count.
  
Recently, the emergence of blockchain technologies has seen its first application to the 2018 presidential elections of Sierra Leone. Blockchain works by allowing only authorized parties to validate voters while letting anyone see the results of the election coming in, which allows for traceability and fraud protection. However, the African nation’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) states the blockchain voting technology only acted as an observer to the election and that they used an in-house database to tally election results and determine the winner.

Because trusting a third-party business for such a huge task means ceding authority and imposing a possible menace to their country, it is easier to work alongside the NEC and gradually implement change to already existing voting techniques.

Stages that are most susceptible to fraud are when votes are being casts, such as through the stuffing of ballot boxes with fake votes and the false recording of votes by election workers.

We propose reinventing voting through creating simple equipment that tackles the roots of voter fraud. By using facial recognition, we verify the voter’s identity through a camera that is linked to the national database. Through using image recognition, the voter places their ballot on a scanner-like surface that then recognizes the information written on the paper and reads the results into a database. This eliminates any third-parties that would later go to count votes, where the majority of the fraud takes place. The whole system is powered by solar panels.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are the everyday people in African developing countries who seek reform, such as those in education and economics. While older generations may find it hard to provide for their family, younger generations feel discouraged from doing well in school if they see a weak political structure and no jobs available for them. The political leadership causes the people to lose faith in the governance of their country and can cause further instability such as revolts or coups if a change is not made.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Voting has either taken place manually or through electronic voting devices. In the event of an electronic breakdown, resorting to traditional paper ballots, such as in the Kenyan October 2017 elections, leads to error and manipulation. In addition digital voting through mobile apps might exclude the less tech-savvy and make vulnerability to hacking a large risk.

This idea combines many voting methods. Voters cast a paper ballot that they place on an image recognition machine, counting votes at the source. This prevents physical tampering and the “stuffing of voting boxes”. In addition, handwriting analysis identifies if someone has voted more than once, another key issue.

While blockchain makes votes hard to manipulate, it is expensive, relies a lot on electricity and tries to change the voting paradigm in countries that are very conservative. The physical simplicity of the solution means it is low-cost, portable, and a foot-in-the door to greater change.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Initial Design: I am exploring the idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

We are a team of two recent graduates from the University of Michigan and HEC Paris who seek to create economic change in environments that traditionally receive less attention.

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we plan to register in the future.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

As students of business and technology, we hear about many start-up ideas aimed at people in the first-world who are already benefiting from numerous innovations. However, we know that there is a huge gap to fill in the developing world- be it in farming or manufacturing - and believe that if entrepreneurship targeted this population more, hundreds of thousands of lives can exponentially be improved.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

This solution bridges the themes of Peace, Prosperity and Planet. Through the rise of fair elections, people begin to trust their governing bodies more. This creates an environment that is open to democracy and cooperation. As honest elections become the status-quo, economic reform will quickly follow suit as candidates realize that to be elected, they need to actually bring change for the people: Peace. Gradually, people will discover that they have more resources available to them and start to seek influence outside of their traditional sphere: Prosperity. Lastly, as a country gains legitimacy, it can participate in world-wide summits for climate agreements and starting setting green goals for the country: Planet.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We imagine forming several partnerships, as this is key to our success. One essential partnership would be with the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in Africa which is responsible for running polling stations and counting votes. We would work alongside this organization to better their methodology through using the image recognition voting. As a result of this engagement, voting will become less fraudulent- there will no longer be the need for transporting vote boxes or counting votes. We also plan to partner with AGORA, a start-up that brought the first blockchain election to Sierra Leone. This partnership will guide us through their industry expertise. Because our solution can help promote theirs, this will strengthen our chances in speaking with stakeholders.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

This project will increase voter confidence through fair elections. This then helps ordinary people trust their political representatives more, which yields long-term benefits of increased salary, infrastructure reform, more trade between countries, and more economic power.

Geographic Focus

This idea targets Cameroon and Libya, who are nearing elections and strive towards democracy.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

This project would take one year to implement. We would use our local contacts in the technology, along with social media, to get stakeholder buy-in. The next step would be to do on-site research to better see where fraud might come in. We would then design and modify prototypes according to user testing and research around the six-month mark. The next stage would be a "trial run", using the technology at smaller elections to gain recognition and legitimacy before taking the next larger step.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

2 comments

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Comment
Photo of Angi Yoder Maina
Team

Miroslava Kovacova 
 
There is election fraud in many countries throughout the world, not only in Africa. That being said, as a Kenyan citizen I would love for their to be a method of voting that did not shut my country's economy down for a full 8 months.I would suggest that you need to develop this idea further with locally based civil society and other interested parties in one or two targeted countries before looking at the whole continent.

While the technology ideas are strong, the local knowledge about why fraud takes place and whose interest it is done in is important if election fraud is going to be eliminated globally. If it were fully a logistical and purely technical issue I believe we would have already solved this issue on the continent.

Additionally your application talks about the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in Africa. This body does not exist and you may want to be more specific about who exactly you are talking about partnering with.

Here is to the hope that one day there will be elections in Kenya, Somalia, S. Sudan, Rwanda, and Uganda which are free and fair -- as well as in the United States and other western "democracies."

All the best. Angi.

Photo of Miroslava Kovacova
Team

Thank you for your insightful comment, Angi.

Although each country faces its own obstacles with elections, I will be looking at a few countries within Africa because this is the geographic zone that I chose to focus on. That said, to more concretely understand what goes on in the elections, some ethnographic research and meeting with locals will be necessary. I will likely focus on the upcoming elections in Libya and Cameroon, Libya because of its struggle to make a democratic transition after the fall of its dictator and Cameroon because their leader Paul Biya is one of the longest-serving African leaders that now faces opposition.

The NEC I was referring to in my submission is the National Electoral Commision of Sierra Leone (https://twitter.com/NECsalone), which was responsible for the election results just recently. I hope to partner with them or similar organizations in the countries I mentioned to better understand their procedures for voting. Of course, the countries I would chose depend on my timeline and how that coincides with upcoming elections.