Tuesday, April 1, 2014

South Africa: Elections app fosters political accountability

The national elections this year will be closely watched as commentators and politicians analyse the support for the ruling party after 20 years of democracy. To help ordinary citizens keep track of the results in their area, News24 parent 24.com has launched an elections platform that tracks voting patterns from a national level right down to the municipal voting district. While there have been previous "live" election maps, these were primarily the result of a team sitting through the night and manually punching in results from the IEC.

"I threw down the gauntlet to our dev team - I wanted interactive results maps that update frequently. And I wanted to emulate sites like New York Times and Huffington Post in how they visualised election results on web and mobile," said Cathryn Reece, head of product for 24.com. The ruling ANC is under pressure during this election, widely seen as a litmus test of the execution of the vision of struggle heroes such as Nelson Mandela, OR Thambo and Walter Sisulu.

Unique challenge

However, revelations on President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead, continuing revelations that the promised jobs from the controversial arms deal have not materialised and Gauteng e-tolls have put the ANC on the defensive. The rise of new political formations like the Economic Freedom Fighters and AgangSA have given an indication that this election may be a tough one for the ANC to win convincingly.

The team from 24.com worked closely with the IEC to ensure that the election maps will truly represent the will of the people in the 2014 election, but unlike the US, there are many political parties which presented a unique challenge. "But what we didn't realise when we began working on development of our mapping solution was just how complicated the South African electoral process is. There are two elections happening at once - a National and Provincial one.

"This means you can't automatically do binary comparisons of things, and you can't rely on colours alone to tell all the data stories you want to tell. We struggled with this most with our Voting Shifts map," Reece said. A further challenge is also the lack of local data in specific elections, but the team put in a great deal of work to ensure that the election map is an accurate rendering of voting patterns in SA.

"With the help of the IEC however we were able to navigate our way through most of these challenges and have built the most ambitious and comprehensive set of election result maps we've ever attempted. We have five maps in total - Previous Results, Voting Shifts, Results per Party, Voter Turnout - and live election results for 2014," said Reece. The elections map is available on web, mobile, Android and iOS platforms and is designed to educate voters about the importance of participating in a democracy as well as the political "temperature" of their area.

Source: News24

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