The Art of Electioneering in USA; The Colorado Experience

The Art of Electioneering in USA; The Colorado Experience

On the 1st of November, the Connected Development [CODE] delegate for the United State of American election observation left for Nigeria for Denver, Colorado which I was part of.

The mission was sponsored by International Institute of Education (IIE) through a recommendation from Ford Foundation for the sole aim of using the experience to influence the Electoral Reform of the Country which was ongoing by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by making a recommendation about what was observed in the USA.

Colorado was chosen by our delegate due to the fact that the state is one of the 3 frontline states in the USA  using an All Mail Ballot System of voting which is an entirely new concept to our Democracy and Governance Unit.  CODE delegates arrived Denver on the 2nd of November by 05:30pm while still awed by the long travel and the ambience that was called the American dream.  

State of Colorado

From right, Colorado Secretary of State, Emmanuel Njoku, Tunde Adegoke and the Director of Election, Judd Choate

We met with the Secretary of State (SoS) of Colorado  on Thursday November 3rd to have a briefing Judd Choate, the Director of Election for the State and he walked us through all the processes of election in the state and took his time to answer all of our questions regarding elections  in the state of Colorado.

Planning is a very important part of the election in Colorado as the process is well thought of and every concern and loopholes were well solved even before the election as for them, it is more of everyday work to make sure all votes counts and all voices are heard in the state as there processes are grouped into 5 main parts discussed below.

After the meeting with the Judd, he gave us a letter which we are to present at any of the Election Division offices we wish to observe in, he later describes where the Denver Election Division office is in which we head straight to.

On reaching the office, we are asked to register first and we are introduced to the Senior Public Information Officer of Denver Election Division in the person of Alton P. Dillard II, he took us through all the offices and explained all the processes to us.

The Senior Public Information Officer of Denver Election Division, Alton Dillard II, taking our team on a tour of the Election Division Office

The Senior Public Information Officer of Denver Election Division, Alton Dillard II, taking our team on a tour of the Election Division Office

It is to be noted that Colorado started early voting even before we arrived the State, that made us witness the process of sorting, verification, tabulation and counting of the ballots as it is a continuous process.

The election division office who handle the election in Denver County has 5 processes which are;

  • Ballot Receiving: This is where the ballot is received by the election officers who went to the field to collect the ballots from the drop off points which Denver has 26 of and the workers comprises of 1 democrats, 1 republican and 1 non-party affiliates who are all paired together to take the ballots from the drop off points and the mailboxes in the county. It is to be noted here that the election division recruited the workers in which most of them have been working with the election division offices before. The team is paired for the purposes of transparency in the election process. This is not a practice common to only Denver election division but that is how it is being done in other counties too.
  • Ballot Verification: This is the next unit after the receiving room, they take care of the verification of ballots before it moves to the next stage and just like the first point (1), the workers here too are paired together too for transparency sake. This room has a bigger machine which takes care of the verification and it also contains workers who do some few manual verifications which the machine could not do. It is also to be of note here that what is being verified is the voters signature which was compared to what they have in the database of the election register database of the voters.
  • Ballot Preparation Room: This is the 3rd stage which the ballot passed through and there are more than 4 machines here and just as all other steps, there are also paired together and there is little human works here too.
  • Counting Room: This room is two in one as it also contains the Counting Room and the Tabulation room which is the last stage, this is where the ballot are being counted and it also contains some computers which take care of counting the results of the ballots. Here, there is a manual which was developed by the electoral team which helps them to reduce void votes to its barest minimum, if a ballot could not pass through this stage, then the voters can be called on to recast his or her votes. It is to be of note that all the systems in this room are hacker proof that none of the workstations is connected to the internet and perhaps an external device is connected to any of it, the whole workstations shut down immediately so as to repel any external system extrusion. The data was generated while counting is transferred to the next room which is why the room is a section of counting room.
  • The Tabulation Room: This room is only but a little part of the counting room and it is where the result come out as it is the last room which is where the result is being announced. The computers here get their feeds from the counting systems.

It is to be noted here that the ballots are being batched and sealed in each room before it moves to the next room and also, there is a copy physical copy of every electronic record so as to have a backup in case there is system breakdown in any of the processes. Also, each truck which are responsible for picking the ballots in each drop off points are being secured using cameras and there is also a security personnel in charge of it.

The fun fact here is that the database of the electoral board takes care of all the pressure and also the period of 21 days to vote makes it all simple to vote in Colorado.

The Registration Procedure:

The Colorado Secretary of State SoS office takes care of the election office as he is the one who hired the director of election and there is a plan in place which the SoS told our team that his aim is to make sure all that who are of election age all registered and get to vote during the election. They made the registration so seamless that the voters can register at their convenience online or at any designated voting centers across the state. You can register to vote in Denver County and vote in El Paso County. That makes it so easy to vote and made the aims of the office to come to fruition.

With only an ID, one who is of voters age can register and registration continues till the election day.

The Luncheon in Penrose House:

State of Colorado

Group picture of African Observers meeting with the El Pomar Foundation

Our Team was invited to a luncheon to Penrose House by the El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs (El-Paso County) through the SoS office which was attended on the eve of the election day (7th of November). We met with the Chairman of the Board of the foundation with some of their team as well as some youths from Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa who all came to observe the election through a sponsorship by the foundation.

The event was fun and educative as I learned about giving back to one’s community and also get to meet with vibrant youths from other African countries too.

Just after we were addressed by the chairman, the secretary of state also address us too and also answered questions from us all and  briefed us about what their expectations were on the election day which is the next day. “We are expecting less than 700,000 voters tomorrow as we already have more than 2.5m votes who voted in the early voting period” confirmed the SoS.

After the event, we went straight to the El Paso County Election Division to see how things are being done too but we could not wait much as we have to catch a regional bus going back to Denver which we eventually missed and we have to take a Grey Hound back.

The Election Day

Election Day

A Voter Dropping his Ballot at the Drop Off point in Denver Election Division Office on the Election Day

Due to the experience back home, I was expecting to see the crowd on queues on this day. The crowd who came to vote, but how wrong was as the day was just like a typical day in Denver. It does not even look like there was any election holding as all were calm, no security forces everywhere, no queues, no touts and other vices that came with the election in Nigeria and other African countries. The Denver election division is open to media as they have a dedicated place for the media to plug their gadgets and cover the event live. We were told that media transparency is part of the processes of the election in Colorado and we are all given access to witness all the events as they unfold.

Election Day in Nigeria

Election Day in Nigeria

Despite the long 20 days already given to voters, some prefer to come to the division office to cast their votes which we all witnessed as they come in to do their voting.

Languages

Election and Instruction Materials are in 2 Languages - English and Spanish

Election and Instruction Materials are in 2 Languages – English and Spanish

The election materials are in both Spanish and English as they made sure that the two most popular languages in the state are captured and their votes counted. I was thinking out loud that why wouldn’t we have our election materials domesticated to our languages in Nigeria, and the thought of user-centered election material production came to mind. Well, maybe that could be future plans was what I finally concluded on.

Observations:

  1. During the 2015 general election in Nigeria, it was all observed by the media in the country that the APC presidential candidates in person of Muhammed Buhari was being blackmailed and so much of hate publicity were leveled against him, and funnily – the same thing happened in the USA, the media was doing a wonderful work by painting the GOP candidate in person of Donald Trump black and so much hate publicity was also leveled against him. Some of his past words and actions were used against him and they kept on amplifying it on the media and that alone gave me so many concerns as I did understand that there is nothing as such a bad publicity.
  2. On arriving at the airport, the first guy we spoke with said “we do not know how both of them get the ticket to run for the election, you guys can take them both to Nigeria while going back as we don’t want them” also the guy who took us on Uber ride to Colorado springs said almost the same thing which was “both of them are disasters, I think Hilary is not real – she is fake and I just do not understand how she and Trump got the ticket, it seems we are all sleeping when they are doing their nominations for the party”

Opinions:

Just like in Nigeria election in 2015, the media made Buhari the winner as they kept on blowing his trumpet for him and as such the media made Trump the winner in USA election too. There is nothing as bad publicity they say, the more the media keep on mentioning his name, the more his message keeps sticking to the  subconscious mind of the voters and the more their brain is programmed with his name. As such, the will unconsciously vote for him and that was what happened as the decision process of who to vote for comes easily to them as what they have been hearing all along is Trump.

Recommendations:

  1. The database is a very important component of the Colorado Election process as it acted as a shock absorber for all the election processes. And it aids the proper planning for them. INEC should work with JAMB, Banks (BVN) and other agencies who all have a  functional database to populate their own database and add more which they are not having to complete database of their own.
  2. Every county have their election division which is responsible for the election in their locality, the INEC should look to empowering all local government in Nigeria to be able to man their election themselves and INEC functions should be regionalised so as to create a hierarchical operating procedure for INEC so that the pressure would not always be in the Central office.
  3. The election is taken place in 21 days in the USA, INEC should try and be dynamic when it comes to election and stop trying to achieve everything in a day like it is being done. This will give all and sundry the time to cast their votes.
  4. Blue Book is produced by the Colorado Election Office which is a book which introduces all the candidates contesting the election. INEC should take the responsibility of publishing a book which will be introducing all the contestant which will inform the voters more about who they are to vote for.
  5. Election materials are domesticated in 2 languages in Colorado, INEC should make a pact or agreement with all other sectional offices who will domesticate the election materials to the languages of the people as they are the ones who will be voting.
  6. In terms of election education, more should be done to educate the voters so the process will be a more demystified one.
  7. Planning is a very important part of every election, each state should be responsible for voting activities in their individual state and state electoral laws should be encouraged in Nigeria so we can have a more transparent election.
  8. Ease of registration is very important, registrations should be placed in the people’s hand and locations and electors should not be limited by their polling units, everyone who registered in the same state should be able to vote in any polling units in the state.

The election  ended by 7pm on the 8th of November and the abstract voting results was called out by 9th which is not the official result as the united State of America has a rule that the canvas is the time which the election result will be made known to the public in which the canvas is to hold on 24th of November where all the election directors all come together to announce the election statistic in their individual divisions and the winner is not known until after the Electoral college vote which is usually by the party electoral college voters in each state depending on which party won which state.

Like in Colorado, there are 9 electoral colleges (EC) votes, Democrats won in Colorado and that implies that 9 EC is for democrats, and the representative of the democrats will be the one to vote in the electoral college vote come December. There are 538 EC votes in the whole USA, the candidates with 270 won the election which is usually being conducted after the general election.

The experience was a once in a lifetime event, and I am so grateful to all who made it possible, from the Secretary of State, the IRI, the Fords Foundations and the IIE. Without their support, this mission would have been a success.

We have started working on sharing the experiences we learned while observing the election and more posts will be published as a follow-up to this.

Nigeria Election Day Image Credit: Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima

Earlier Post on The Exercise is Here

The #OpenDataParty in #Kano: A Gathering of Community Champions and Data Enthusiast

The #OpenDataParty in #Kano: A Gathering of Community Champions and Data Enthusiast

[ALL PICTURES FROM THIS EVENT CAN BE FOUND AT https://flic.kr/s/aHskMb4xkV ]

It’s the 3rd year in a row of the Connected Development [CODE]’s Open Data Party, and truly, I feel we can do more and better, especially as the community keeps growing. Since 2013, the community of participants, and enthusiasts has grown from 0 in 2013 to 837 in 2016. Wondering what the numbers are – it’s the numbers of participants that have attended our quarterly data training where we teach skills and tools in making data meaningful and useful. At this year large event, we had 122 participants and out of 42 respondents (of our evaluation), 59.5% and 33.3% rated all aspects of the 2 – day hands – on training as excellent and good respectively, while 7.1% rated it has average.

So for so many people, that never knew how the ODP came to eHealth Africa, in Kano, it was our decision to take it to the North West at first, after moving it from the North Central in 2014 to South-South in 2015. We never knew who will help host it this time, but fortunately, during one of my August Break, I caught up with one of my senior colleagues – Lucy Chambers, who invited me for a drink in Maitama. With her colleagues at work, our chit chat mentioned ODP, and she said we should explore the opportunity of eHealth Africa hosting the event. Just some minutes after she mentioned that, I remembered how Michael Egbe, in 2014, after the ODP in Abuja, had discussed that we should consider the possibility of hosting this event together with eHealth Africa. I knew this was just it – Many thanks to Anu Parvatiyar, who took the email conversation forward, but unfortunately, could not attend as she was in Maiduguri, as one of the team responding to the recent Polio outbreak in Borno State.

This year event was a little bit different from the past ones in that I did less of control – no thanks to eHealth Africa, and the team that came in from CODE who took their various spaces in handling logistics, accommodation, social media, and the rest; also, we focused mainly on skills and tool shares – a total of 9 skills with 12 tool usage were shared in 14 hours during the 2 – day event; we also scrapped the ideation session which we had last year, as we found out that for us to be able to support ideas, we will need 6 months of mentorship before the winner can execute the plan, and make use of the seed grant effectively – for those that were looking forward to this, we are sorry, we want to focus on sharing the use of tools and skills; We found out that our community champions at Follow the Money needs a yearly community gathering (which was one of the theory of change for Follow The Money), as such we gave more hours to a Follow The Money session, Next year we might have a whole day of community gathering!

The first day witnessed sessions from What data and open Data is – the only session I was able to facilitate, while data pipelines were taken by Precious Onaimo, the current school of data fellow in Nigeria. It was always exciting to see the World Cafe facilitation style been used for one hour each for each session that has Data Scraping tools taken by Precious Onaimo and myself; Mapping using Open Streetmaps by eHealth Africa; Analysing and Creating dashboards with Microsoft Excel by eHealth Africa; Mobile collection of data, and data design by Nonso Jideofor of Reboot. The skill session continued on the second day, and skill session included visualising data with Tableau and CartoDB by eHealth Africa, Analysing data with Microsoft Excel by eHealth Africa. Participants commented on how educative most of the sessions were, but would have been helpful if training materials had been available to them before the start of the event.

The skill session continued on the second day, and skill session included visualizing data with Tableau and CartoDB by eHealth Africa, Analysing data with Microsoft Excel by eHealth Africa. It was followed by a 3 – hours Follow The Money session where new thinkings about the movement was discussed. Some of the key discussions were the role of community reporters in building their various communities as the movement now has a community champion in all the 36 states and the FCT. Also, the new platform for citizen engagement and participation was unveiled for the community input. The afternoon session of the day was started by eHealth Africa sharing Why they Map, and why mapping is important, it was followed by a community mapping of Chibok, Borno State to make participants gain skills on mapping their own community as well.

Java Printing

 

 

 

Procurement Standards: Challenges Within the Nigeria Education Sector

Procurement Standards: Challenges Within the Nigeria Education Sector

“For most of the Millenium Development Goals project for education in Nigeria, that we monitored, we found out that a larger percentage of them have turned abandoned project, and the major reason was that there were problems at the procurement stage” said Mrs Hajia Liman, the deputy director at the Federal Ministry of Education, overseeing Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) projects in education.

Owing to the lessons learnt from the Millenium Development Goal project, they decided to organise a 3 – day workshop between September 21 -23 at the Chida Hotel in Abuja in which CODE’s Follow The Money team was invited to facilitate sessions on open contracting standards and tracking the SDG project on quality education (SDG4). Actually, I was amazed by the number of challenges the head of federal government secondary schools highlighted, especially during the procurement processes.

The Open Contracting Standard Process

The open contracting standard processes as seen at http://standard.open-contracting.org/latest/en/getting_started/contracting_process/

Immediately Dr Hussain Adamu, of the procurement department finished his presentation, questions could not allow us to introduce our session, and I wonder, when last these head of unity schools, from the 36 states and FCT had time to discuss the procurement act, and standards they should follow. As stated in the Nigeria Public Procurement Act 2007, any institution embarking on projects must publish a call for bid in the Federal Tenders journal and in one other daily newspaper. Participants responded to this as – “We do not have budget and funds to advertise, so how do you want us to place adverts, even in the federal tenders journal, and at that, you even need to travel from my community down to Abuja to place the advert”. Oh my, God, I hope you aren’t dumfounded too! in this age of emails.

One challenge that was reiterated amongst the head of schools was how the inflation rate in the country is already affecting the budget that was appropriated. “For instance, If 10 million was appropriated for the construction of a library, and we send tender notices, and during bidding evaluation of all submitted bid, the average price quoted for the best and qualified contractors was at 15 million Naira, what do we do, even when only 7 million out of the money was released to us by the Ministry” asked one of the head of schools. It was a consensus at the workshop that this was the reality on ground with the 2016 budget already, and the response was that they should go ahead and agree in the contract document to pay the amount the school have at hand which is 7 million Naira, and later adding the balance of  8 million Naira to their proposed budget for 2017 as an ongoing project. So just in case, you will be analysing and tracking the 2017 budget, there are already issues to deal with.

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Oludotun Babayemi using participatory approach to disseminating methodologies that can be used in tracking SDG4 expenditures

Tracking of government spending isn’t sexy at all! I remembered in 2014 when we were tracking funds meant to provide an industrial water borehole at Federal Government Girls College, Gusau, we only went to the school to ask the principal question and armed with our already made paper visualisation on funds that was meant to provide the water borehole for girls in the school. He was amazed by the knowledge we already had about the project. However, before he could grant us an audience, he asked severally if we had authority from the Federal Ministry of Education.” But we do not have to, we are citizens, and even with a secondary level of identification, anyone can ask for what and how is his/her tax is been spent” I affirmed to him. In the same vein, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) desk of the Federal Ministry of Education hopes to partner with our Follow The Money project in ensuring what happened to the MDGs wouldn’t occur again. At times, announcing such partnership is a delight, but one question still remains if the government can work at the pace we work – Something to look out for!

 

 

‘It is our collective responsibility to accelerate the implementation of SDGs’  – Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed

‘It is our collective responsibility to accelerate the implementation of SDGs’  – Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed

Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, who has been one of the major influencers of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) launched late last year in New Yok has reiterated her stance on SDGs once again at the inaugural town hall meeting tagged ‘Buharimeter’in Abuja yesterday.

Amina posited that the role environment plays in actualising each of these Global Goals (SDGs) cannot be overemphasised hence it’s important that all Nigerian citizens get involved in its implementations so as to accelerate and maximise its impacts on our nation’s overall economic growth.  ‘We cannot leave everything for the government to do, Yes, Ministers are public servants and it is a privileged to be one, but things would only work perfectly if we can earn your cooperation and work together in achieving all these goals. She stated that this administration would ensure that its delivers on all its promises at addressing security issues, ensuring steady infrastructural development and revamping the economy.

The Minister, who had earlier visited the lead poisoning affected communities in Niger State like Shikira, mentioned that the emergency response to remediation of these communities would commence as soon as the fund for the remediation is approved by the Federal Government. “In collaboration with Ministry of Solid Minerals, we will commence the remediation of these affected communities in Niger State’ she alluded.

The Buharimeter Townhall Meeting was organised by Centre For Democracy and Development (CDD) aimed at assessing the one year in office of President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) government. The event had five federal Ministers in attendance namely: Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture), Babatunde Fashola (Power, Works, and Housing), Audu Ogbeh (Agriculture and Rural Development), Amina Mohammed (Environment), and Udo Udoma (Budget and National Planning).