Counteracting Illicit Behaviour During Elections: The Role of Observers and Cell Phones in a Field Experiment

Democracy requires elections that are free and fair, in order to bring legitimacy to governments and therefore give them the mandate to pursue their policies. But in many developing countries, and especially Africa, elections are marred by intimidation, fraud, and even civil conflict. This project seeks to develop our understanding of how electoral conduct can be improved in emergent African democracies. We are interested in understanding the conditions that enable less illicit behaviour to surface and more electoral participation from citizens to materialise. During the national elections of October 2009 in Mozambique, we conducted a study about the effectiveness of different forms of electoral education. Together with local partners, Jornal @Verdade and electoral observation NGO consortium Observatorio Eleitoral, we implemented three types of interventions in 161 locations nationwide across four provinces of Mozambique (Maputo Province, Gaza, Zambezia, and Cabo Delgado). The first intervention was electoral education through cell phone SMS; messages gave information about the electoral procedures, candidates, parties, and were received during the two weeks just before the Election Day. The second was a hotline of electoral problems; citizens could report through SMS occurrences of the electoral campaign and Election Day they deemed problematic; this information was widely disseminated after verification, primarily in the locations where the hotline was present. The third was the distribution of Jornal @Verdade during the electoral period, for a period of approximately six weeks; @Verdade focused on an electoral education message during this period, including National Electoral Commission (CNE/STAE) pamphlets and the dissemination of a national mechanism of reporting of electoral problems. In sum, we find clear positive effects of all treatments on our measures of voters’ political participation and voters’ information about politics. However the different treatments caused diverse effects on perceptions about electoral problems and views about authority.