Dengue fever app repurposed for Pakistan poll monitors

13 May 2013

ITEM: Election observers in Pakistan’s Punjab province tracked poll fraud using an existing mobile app originally designed to track mosquitos carrying dengue fever.

According to The Guardian, over 15,000 election observers armed with smartphones used the app during Saturday’s national election to send instant reports and pictures of any suspected voting irregularities by tapping an icon:

Details can be attached to photographs taken on the phone's camera, which can be instantly beamed back to a control room where they flash up as red circles on maps displayed on banks of giant computer displays.

The main focus of poll monitoring was making sure ballot boxes arrive at polling stations, voting began on time, and no one tried to force voting to stop.

The app was originally developed by the Punjab government to map sightings of mosquito larvae that might carry the dengue virus, and was repurposed for the election, reported to be the most closely observed Pakistan election in the country’s history, as it also marks the country’s first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power.

The app was put through its paces in the final weeks of the election campaign, and officials claimed the app had already helped reduce complaints of cheating, the Guardian reports:

"Complaints really tailed off towards the end of the campaign period when we would have expected them to peak," said Umar Saif, chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board. "People realised how closely this election is being monitored and that the rules are being quickly enforced."

How well the app worked on Saturday remains to be seen. Free and Fair Election Network has reported “serious incidents of voting irregularities, fraud and intimidation”, but mainly in areas such as Karachi. The poll monitor app was limited to Punjab, which is the most populated province in the country and accounts for over half the seats in the national assembly, the Guardian report says.

At the time of posting this, the overall election was being hailed as a success – at least compared to previous elections in Pakistan, which have been plagued by accusations of widespread and blatant vote rigging.

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