With support from USAID, Democracy International partnered with the Coalition of Domestic Observers (CDO), a network of 30 Albanian civil society groups, to undertake a citizen observation mission for the 25 June 2017 Albanian Assembly Elections. DI and CDO conducted a citizen election observation exercise to promote public confidence in the electoral process, detect and deter voter fraud, and provide recommendations to improve the process in the future. Specifically, DI and CDO applied a statistically based observation (SBO) methodology, which combines quantitative and qualitative assessment techniques to conduct a rapid, systematic and comprehensive evaluation of the integrity of the election process.
With DI’s assistance, CDO recruited, trained and deployed 1,923 citizen election observers, including 1,082 SBO observers, deployed to a random, representative and statistical sound sample of 541 polling stations. In total, 63% of observers were under the age of 30 and more than 600 observers were female. On Election Day, SBO observers were asked to submit reports at four different intervals: after polling stations opened, at the mid-point of voting, after the polling stations closed, and after the counting processed finished. CDO established a Central Data Center in Tirana staffed by 40 data clerks responsible for cleaning and managing SBO reports submitted by observers from sample polling stations.
To facilitate data collection, management, and analysis, CDO used ODK Collect with Ona, an ODK-based SaaS data management platform. In the weeks prior to Election Day, CDO volunteers translated the ODK Collect app into Albanian and provided trainings for observers on how to report using the app. Observers were provided two options for reporting: calling a hotline number at the Central Data Center on Election Day or reporting via ODK Collect. Approximately 20 percent of CDO observers opted to use ODK Collect and submitted their reports, photos and GPS coordinates from sample polling stations.
On Election Day, CDO found that the reports submitted via ODK Collect appeared in the Ona platform first -and seemingly immediately. Given in-built skip logic and constraints in the ODK Collect form, CDO found that reports submitted via ODK Collect contained very few mistakes, reducing the amount of time spent on data cleaning by data clerks. In a few cases, observers unsure that their forms were submitted re-sent submitted forms however these were easy to detect and quickly removed from the Ona platform. Overall, CDO was so pleased with the speed and accuracy of reporting via ODK Collect that it plans to make ODK Collect its primary observer reporting mechanism in future election observation exercises.
DI assisted CDO in performing data analysis on reports received via observer calls to the Central Data Center and submissions via the ODK Collect app. On Election Day, CDO was able to issue three statements using SBO findings to assess the integrity of the opening, voting and closing processes. On the day after the election, CDO issued two statements on the counting process as well as a preliminary election statement detailing its key SBO findings and analysis. For each report and statement issued, CDO held a press conference that was broadcast on live TV and live-streamed on its Facebook page.
Based on its SBO findings, CDO concluded that the election process was generally credible, peaceful and well organized. Among its key findings, CDO found that 95.6% of polling stations opened within a half hour of the official opening time; 99.2% of polling stations were equipped with all necessary voting materials; voter secrecy was guaranteed in 98.7% of stations; and campaigning aimed at influencing voters occurred in just 3.1% of stations. Voters were observed taking photos of their marked ballots in 3.7% of stations. Following the close of polls, CDO issued a voter turnout projection of 46.85% with a 5 percent margin of error; the official voter turnout figure later provided by the election commission was 46.79%.