Counting Votes Collaboratively

2014 was a year full of elections in Turkey. There was the local elections in March, which was repeated for some cities in June. Presidential elections took place in August. Prior to elections, protests and scandals were on the news. People think that might have caused an increased voter turnout. Also, something interesting has awakened a collaborative soul in these elections.

The first thing I have to mention is a community called “Oy ve Ötesi”. They were founded before the elections in March. What they did was somewhat interesting. They were looking for 33.000 volunteers to watchdog ballot boxes. They had several training videos about voters’ rights and more on YouTube. It may seem unrelated to social media, but it got viral THROUGH social media. There were all kinds of posts about them on almost all kinds of platforms before the elections. And they did succeed in organizing as many as 25k people. And it turned out that most of the Oy ve Ötesi folks mastered the rules.

What happened next made the tension climb even more. In some cities, the number of votes for two leading parties was so close that they had to recount bags of ballots over and over again. The result? They are to be repeated. And Oy ve Ötesi volunteers were there when they were repeated.

But there was another issue even more terrifying than equal-votes. That was the suspicion of fraud in some cities. To make this topic clear I will try to explain how elections work in Turkey. First, people come and vote between specified hours. When the time comes, the ballot box is opened and votes are counted. Anyone from the public can watch (and record) the process of counting. Then, attendants had to fill an official ballot box report with numbers of votes in it. Then, both ballots and the report would be moved to the Supreme Electoral Council. There, reports would be typed into computers, while nobody’s watching.

Anyone could access the results of any given box published by the council. The opposition party had created an internal software to follow up their own counts. The official attendants of the opposition party sent reports to the party center. Party center checked whether numbers match that of the Electoral Council. They were different for some boxes.

I’m not here to discuss politics, so here comes the topic: People went crazy on social media. Twitter, Facebook, Ekşisözlük were full of angry posters questioning what is happening. People were asking for “Report #1234 from Ankara, urgent!” as if they were calling an ambulance. But this cry for help was not systematic and it did not go well. A lot of people wanted to help, but it seemed to be late.

I’m here to discuss what was done afterwards. A tool called Saydıraç was invented. Anyone could upload images of reports with this app. Of course, it would be impossible for one person to travel through all ballot boxes in a city. They tried it with a limited number of people in March but they couldn’t make it in time. Oy ve Ötesi was able to organize 25.000 people, and they used an internal system open only to volunteers. Volunteers were to take photos, upload and count by themselves. It didn’t give the complete results, but you could see the big picture. Unfortunately Saydıraç did not become very popular.

Oy ve Ötesi expanded to the whole country as Türkiye’nin Oyları. People signed up to be volunteers, although not as many, watched boxes. There’s yet another election coming up in 2015, so we’ll get to observe social networks one more time.