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Opinion: Using the ‘science of where’ in elections

By Judah Bett | Published Wed, March 15th 2017 at 00:00, Updated March 14th 2017 at 18:58 GMT +3
Geographical Information Systems PHOTO:COURTESY

Every election is a formal decision-making process by which citizens choose an individual to hold public office. For the past few years, elections have been featured prominently in the news in Kenya.

The country is gearing up for the 2017 General Election, and the electoral bodies are keen on ensuring the electoral process is done professionally and with a high degree of credibility and citizen engagement.

Geographical Information Systems (GIS), the “Science of Where” can enhance free and fair elections and has been used in many parts of the world with tremendous success.

In Africa, GIS has mainly been used at the demarcation level and location of polling stations and this has limited the enormous gains that could be realised from using GIS.

Easy access to poll information at any time during the elections cycle and involving participation of all players leads to confidence in the election results, hence making the process meet the standards of a free and fair election.

Notably, GIS can be used at all the stages of an election: Redrawing boundaries, reviewing location of polling stations with supportive data and public participation: With a robust view of the geography and demographic make-up of any given area, GIS can enable one carry out spatial analysis of the demographics versus the set parameters and delineate the areas effectively with supportive data.

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Placement of polling stations is also another important decision that needs to be made using GIS, as research has indicated that slight changes to the placement and distance between polling stations can have a major influence on voter turnout.

The location of a new polling station can be done using spatial analysis, where factors like the already existing polling stations, changes in the population of the area, the accessibility factor, the elevation of the areas, the GSM coverage are used. This would enable decisions based on crucial data as opposed to approximations.

In most cases, voter registration is coupled with figures and analyses of how different areas are registering in terms of numbers.

However, inclusion of a spatial system would enable capturing of the registered voters vis-a-vis the eligible voters, the population dynamics of the areas, accessibility to the polling areas, and other dynamics that would have advised a change of tack in some of the areas.

To some extent, this limited use of spatial technology in Africa does not provide some visual analytics to the consumers of voter registration data, hence limiting clear decision-making mechanisms that could have contributed positively to netting more voter numbers through targeted operations. Educating eligible voters can aid in enabling people turn up to register or turn up to vote.

However, civic education needs to be targeted. At this point, there should be civic education in areas that have poor voter turnout and that can be pointed out clearly through a dynamic map. This would enable key targeted areas to be covered as opposed to a general civic education.

Carrying out an election is a daunting task. The logistics involved in the distribution of polling material can be challenging without the use of a smart GIS; the route a vehicle takes for optimal distribution can be made easy using GIS analytical tools.

The science of where can point out the state of roads to the areas only accessible by water, by air and areas not accessible at all due to the state of roads.

GIS can enable effective communication to the public at large on the elections progress, the location of polling stations, and the registration of voters per polling station, ward, constituency and county.

The Science of Where provides easy-to-use applications that give officials, candidates, citizens, and the media powerful tools to visualise, interact and plan the electoral process. Easy access to poll information at any one time involving participation of all players leads to higher voter turnout and confidence in the election results.

The Science of Where is at the heart of many successful elections in a rapidly changing world, taking advantage of modern digital maps to effectively serve the public and meet their expectations from operations and public outreach to boundary demarcations and campaigning.

IEBC needs to create and deploy useful geospatial applications to visualise relationships, patterns, and trends to deeply understand specific constituencies and the general electoral process.

Elections can be a prolonged and relatively costly process. Given the effects of cost and time, planning on where to spend resources therefore becomes more paramount for candidates and news media that want to cover areas of greater voter interest.

Results from previous elections also help to plan future elections. The science of where, in particular, would provide a much needed solution in such areas that would enable a look at how voting patterns develop over time and why.