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, and the presidential elections had taken place in August. Elections were held just after the country-wide protests and a corruption scandal, so people were pretty excited for results. In the local elections, something interesting happened and it has awaken a collaborative soul sleeping until.

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 were not to be official ballot box attendants, but rather they would control the behaviour of officials. They had several training videos about voters’ rights, way of voting, and more on YouTube, which was the main medium of instruction. It may seem unrelated to the 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 succeeded in organising as many as 25k people. And it turned out that most of the Oy ve Ötesi attendants indeed mastered the rules, they were even more knowledgable than the official attendants.

What happened next made the tension climb even more. In some cities, number of votes for two leading parties were 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 are repeated.

But there was another issue even more terrifying than equal-votes. That was the possibility 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, ballot box is opened and votes are to be counted. Anyone from public can watch (and record) the process of counting. Then, attendants had to fill a official ballot box report with numbers of votes in it. Then, both ballots and the report would be moved to the Supreme Electoral Council, where reports would be typed into computers, while nobody’s watching.

An example of official ballot box report

Anyone, including the nominees, could access the results of any given box published by the council, which was a simple rule. The opposition party had created an internal software to follow up their own votes, especially in the capital city, Ankara. The official attendants of the opposition party were to send images of reports to the party center, and the ones at the center were to check whether numbers they calculate hold with numbers Electoral Council broadcasts. Surprisingly, they did not hold.

Just another report, with it’s representation by the council.

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 talking questioning what is happening. People were asking for “Report #1234 from Ankara, urgent!” as if they were calling an ambulance. However, it was not very systematic and it did not end well. Everyone wanted to do something, but it seemed to be late. A more scientific approach at Ankara elections can be found at Erik Meyersson’s blog.

I’m here to discuss what was done afterwards. A tool called Saydıraç was invented. By using this application, anyone could upload images of reports and count the votes, as mentioned in the title. It would be impossible for someone to travel through all ballot boxes in a city, and watch the counting process, and then take images of reports, and then do the calculation. They tried it with limited number of people in March and they couldn’t make it in time. But, if enough number of people collaboratively watchs the counting, takes and uploads pictures, that would be very nice. 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. As for Saydıraç, a tool that could have been even more successful than Oy ve Ötesi, unluckily it did not become very popular.

One of the reasons why it did not reach its supposed audience was guessed as the people’s being very upset and super pessimistic about electoral system, after whatever happened in Ankara. Oy ve Ötesi expanded to the whole country as Türkiye’nin Oyları (and even to the foreign countries, where presidential elections did took place). People signed up to be volunteers, although not as many, watched boxes. There’s actually yet another elections coming up in the year of 2015, so we’ll have another chance to see what will happen to the election related social mediums in Turkey.