Digital tools for a pen and paper election

Following what for many has felt like the longest campaign period in South Africa’s 20 years of democracy, the 2014 general elections are finally here. 

Following the months of political tit-for-tat, it’s easy to think that – bar making a foray to your voting station – it’s best to just hunker down in bed until the results are announced. But let’s not give in just yet. 

With South Africa still relying on the tried and trusted paper ballot, the vote counting process can take a while, relative to the other (often disputed) voting technologies out there. 

Though the digital forms of voting may seem questionable, to stay up to date in this final stretch of the elections there are a number of digital tools available for hooked up and clued up voters.

IEC app 
Available for AndroidiOS and Windows 8 mobile devices, this mobile application was developed by South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which manages elections at all levels of government. 

In the app you can check your registration status (although if at this point you’re still not sure, where have you been?) and find out who your ward councillor is. You can search for your nearest voting station or view the one where you’ve registered, then tap on the station to see it on a map and get driving directions from your current location. 

In an FAQ section, the app provides invaluable information about the electoral process, your rights and contact details should something go wrong on the big day. And it allows you to keep up to date with the latest election news. The app will also display the election results as and when these are made available by the IEC.

Developed by the IEC, Ixsa is a 3D digital game that aims to introduce first-time voters to the voting process in what the commission calls a “fun, interactive and innovative way” – perhaps something to keep the kids entertained as you queue. 

According to the IEC, the game allows users to pick an avatar and then follow the character on election day, facing a number of challenges along the way and so educating voters on how, when and where to cast their vote. The game can be downloaded for Android and iPhone devices or played on Facebook

Google Election Hub
Available to about 40 nations, Google launched its Election Hub tool in South Africa for this round of elections. 

The tool, as the name implies, aims to be an online repository of all election-related news. It allows you to filter news by political party and hot-button topics such as education, crime, land reform and corruption. 

Google has said previously that in building the hub, it worked with media, civil society organisations and political parties, “enabling them to use technology to innovate during the elections, and allow voters and politicians to share, discuss and make informed decisions”. 

Find Your Representative
Remembering that it’s not only during elections that we can and should interact with our political leaders, the Find Your Representative tool quickly and easily lets you find the details of your particular representatives.

The People’s Assembly, a group that aims to promote accountability and bridge the gap between ordinary people and their elected representatives, developed the tool. 

There are about 350 constituency offices around the country where members of the public can approach elected representatives and ask for help. Parliament has described the role of parliamentary constituency offices as follows: “The parliamentary constituency offices play a vital role in enabling the public to become active citizens and to take part in parliamentary activities. Services that give effect to this are direct interaction with MPs and the opportunity to lobby representatives, report-backs from MPs and advice on how to access services from both public and private sector establishments.” 

News 24 election app
Following in the footsteps of its highly popular general news app, News24 released an app dedicated to elections. Available for Android and iOS devices, News24 says the app allows you to “be the first to know the latest news, controversy and practical voting information”. 

The app allows you to follow a particular political party for the latest info and news, read biographies of key political figures, access historical context on “all major parties” and, of course, read up on the latest general election news.  

SA Votes app
Although not explicitly stated in the app’s name, the SA Votes app was developed by the Mail & Guardian team. Since late last year, the M&G has joined the ranks of numerous traditional media houses that now see themselves as “digital first”. 

This app, available for Android and iOS devices, allows you to stay informed of the latest breaking news, opinions, results and information surrounding the elections. In the Android app store, while praising overall content, reviews have again and again made note of the app’s bugginess, so be warned. 

While all these tools are great additions for getting your mind around #SADecides2014, don’t discount social media. Check out the buzz and chatter on your social networks, in hashtags and trending topics. Social networks can’t be beaten when it comes to up-to-the-minute commentary and on May 7, the most pertinent and interesting news will be found, shared and discussed on these platforms. But in using these networks, don’t forget that the IEC has declared that thou shalt not selfie in a ballot booth. –

Kerry Littlewood is head of digital at multiplatform content marketing agency New Media Publishing. Follow her on Twitter @kerrylittlewood

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