Indonesian techies crowdsource election results

Three Indonesian tech experts say they have used crowdsourcing to calculate a valid result for the country's contested presidential election in six days, while 4m officials have been beavering away for nearly two weeks counting the votes by hand.

The Indonesian techies, who work for multinational companies, were spurred into action after both presidential candidates claimed victory and accused each other of trying to rig the convoluted counting process, raising fears that the country's young democracy was under threat.

"We did this to prevent the nation being ripped apart because of two claims to victory that nobody can verify," said Ainun Najib, who is based in Singapore. "This solution was only possible because all the polling station data were openly available for public scrutiny and verification."

Mr Najib and two friends took advantage of the decision by the national election commission (KPU) to upload the individual results from Indonesia's 480,000 polling stations to its website for the first time, in an attempt to counter widespread fears about electoral fraud.

The three Indonesians scraped the voting data from the KPU website on to a database and then recruited 700 friends and acquaintances through Facebook to type in the results and check them. They uploaded the data to a website called kawalpemilu.org, which means "guard the election" in Indonesian.

Throughout the process, Mr Najib said he had to fend off hacking attacks, forcing him to shift data storage to a cloud-based service. The whole exercise cost $10 for a domain name and $0.10 for the data storage.

The data indicate that Joko Widodo, the reformist Jakarta governor, has beaten rival Prabowo Subianto, the self-styled strongman, by 52.8 per cent to 47.2 per cent. This tallies with some initial results that also showed Mr Widodo had won the poll and gives Indonesians a data-based prediction days before the official count is completed on Tuesday.

Unlike India and the US, which use electronic voting machines, Indonesia's election officials have to crunch through around 140m votes in a laborious six-stage manual calculation process.

In one of the world's most social media savvy countries, others have responded to calls from Mr Widodo and Mr Subianto to monitor the election count but none of their efforts have managed to produce a comprehensive result.

"It's an amazing achievement," said one person who helped the KPU develop the public scrutiny website. "When we set this up, I joked that someone might crowd-source some of the results but we never thought someone would do it for the whole election this quickly."

Others who attempted large crowdsourcing efforts found that volunteers faced with mind-numbing data entry soon ran out of steam and that it was difficult to verify their work.

Mr Najib says he learnt from these efforts and built a user-friendly system that allowed volunteers to enter one polling station results form every 5 seconds.

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>"People found it addictive and we went from four volunteers to 700 in a few days," he says. "Now we're having to turn people away."

And rather than relying on strangers, who he felt he could not necessarily trust, he recruited friends and friends of friends.

To ensure the data are easily verifiable, the website offers breakdowns of the results from the province level to the individual polling station.

"This is the first time we've seen citizens monitoring the election like this and it's a huge leap for Indonesian democracy," said Philips Vermonte, a political analyst at Indonesia's Centre for International and Strategic Studies.


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