Today, Libya’s High National Elections Commission and Durham-based Caktus Group open sourced their SMS voter registration system, SmartElect. Open sourcing makes the platform freely available for adoption by other organizations and governments.
“With the Libyan High National Elections Commission (HNEC) and consultative support from the United Nations Support Mission to Libya, we have open sourced their elections management platform today under a permissive Apache 2.0 license,” read a blog post published by Caktus Group. “Open sourcing means other governments and organizations can freely adopt and adapt the elections tools which cover nine functional areas. The tools range from SMS voter registration, the first of its kind, to bulk alerts to voters and call center support software,” read the statement.
The platform was developed to enhance voter registration and turnout, and built upon the technological successes of SMS and text message voter registration systems. The Libyan High National Elections Commission (HNEC) only recently chose to release the code base for free, making the code base available for implementation and adoption worldwide.
The system, SmartElect, enabled more than 1.5 million Libyans to register to vote using text messages during two elections in 2014. Together with Durham-based software development firm Caktus Group, they are open-sourcing SmartElect, allowing other governments to freely use and adapt the software.
HNEC developed SmartElect in response to logistical challenges with democratic access. Libya is more than 679,000 square miles, the 18th largest country by land mass, with large swaths in the Sahara Desert. SmartElect’s suite of nine tools extended HNEC’s reach to remote populations, sent alerts to citizens warning of polling center changes, and allowed election workers to monitor voting day activities.
“This technology has contributed to the improvement of the performance of our organization [HNEC] significantly. It helped us to overcome many difficulties that hindered the application of electoral laws. Further, it has saved us considerable time, effort, and money,” said Dr. Emad Alsaiah, Chairman of the Libya High National Elections Commission, in a press release.
SmartElect is the first system of its scale used in an election. Today also marks the first time an SMS elections management system has been offered as open source; other systems are proprietary.
“For new democracies, a new approach was needed to ensure access and inclusivity,” said Tobias McNulty, CEO and co-founder of Caktus Group, in a statement. “Libya is a good example of how we can incorporate a familiar technology like SMS in an innovative way. We do not need to break down barriers to participation; we can leapfrog them.”
SmartElect requires customization for each area’s electoral process, but provides a head start for any government interested in creating an easy-to-access and transparent system. The open sourced system represents nearly two years of development effort from an international team of programmers led by Caktus Group. Open sourcing partners include Praekelt Foundation, Forsa Consulting, the MIS Department Inc, and Ona Systems, Inc.