Testing Hand-held Computers for Voter Registration in Rwanda
dot-ORG has been working with the Rwandan National Electoral Commission (NEC) to strengthen the capacity of the NEC via information and communication technologies (ICTs). This support has included working with the NEC to create and maintain a national voter database, print fraud- resistant voter registration cards, network regional Commission offices, and pilot hand-held computers to collect and validate voter registration information. A previous article in DOT-COMments eNewsletter highlighted progress made with the fraud-resistant voter registration cards. This article focuses one of the other components of the project, the piloting of hand-held computers (or Personal Digital Assistants, PDAs) being implemented in partnership with SatelLife.
While this was a very short activity, being implemented primarily over a period of 10 days in early September 2004, and small in scale, it demonstrated a number of important aspects of PDA use for voter registration.
Based on previous experiences in deploying PDAs for data collection in developing country environments (for example, SatelLife and dot-ORG are also using PDAs in Nepal to collect health data), SatelLife has now developed a standardized method for piloting PDA use. Whether the data collected is related to health or elections, the processes involved in testing PDA use are similar.
Whats involved in piloting the use of PDAs for voter registration?
Selecting a specific brand and type of PDA based on criteria determined by the type of use as well as the software to be used.
Developing forms for use with the PDA based on the data collection requirements in this case, form fields follow the design of the paper-based voter registration card.
Customizing the PDAs (multiple languages, user-friendly icons)
Training the registration officers using the PDAs, the database managers responsible for transferring data to the database and a provincial officer, responsible for overseeing the process.
Field testing including going out to collect data, transferring collected data to a desktop at the provincial level, transforming the Access database file into an Excel file, emailing the data as an Excel file to the NEC central office, then accessing the email at the central office and importing the data into the central database.
Early Results are Positive
This initial pilot testing of PDAs for voter registration was meant to assess the feasibility of using PDAs to replace paper-based cards and it has been quite successful in doing so. The evaluation found that users were satisfied with the training they had received, they were comfortable using the PDAs and all but one user preferred to use the PDA over the paper form.
Lessons Learned to Move Forward
As importantly, the pilot was a crucial opportunity to identify challenges and opportunities associated with the use of PDAs and to start thinking about how expand the pilot and assess the potential for wide-scale use of PDAs for voter registration purposes. A number of issues have emerged in this and other pilots testing the use of PDAs.
While the initial training has always be found to be adequate, additional practice is often necessary for the users to be completely comfortable with the PDAs. This additional practice should be done in field conditions.In short, the pilot testing of the PDAs for voter registration purposes was very successful and given the NECs enthusiasm for continuing to explore opportunities to use the PDAs, further deployments to test the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of the approach in a broader range of environments are being contemplated.
Security and privacy concerns need to be addressed. Whether the information collected is health related or voter registration, citizens need to be able to trust that the information they are providing will be secured and not misused. Strict collection and transmission security protocols must be defined and followed to ensure that data is not lost or misused.
In addition, the potential for the loss of data as a result of stolen PDAs must be taken into consideration and appropriate measures must be taken.
Technical support is essential. The PDAs need to be further tested in different environments and over longer periods of time in order to determine the extent of breakdown/failure and the types of backup or technical support alternatives that would be required in a larger scale deployment.
Field testing in rural conditions is essential. Electricity for charging the PDAs is likely to be a challenge in rural areas. Transmission of data files as email attachments may also be more difficult in rural areas where the internet connectivity is more problematic than in urban areas.
An expanded pilot would also allow the collection of essential evaluation data to assess the benefits of using PDAs vs. paper-based voter registration processes.
It should also be noted that PDAs are very versatile. The same PDAs that are used for voter registration can be customized to collect health data, market prices, environmental data, etc in order to facilitate data collection and to speed up the availability of data for analysis and decision-making.
AED, under the dot-ORG project, was awarded the Rwanda Project July 3, 2002 for a period of two years (Award No. 623-G-00-02-00056-00 under the dot-ORG Leader Award No.GDG-A-00-01-00014-00.)