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Sudanese voters get SMS hotline

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Sudanese citizens might not be able to cast their ballot by SMS, but they will be able to report intimidation and violence at polling stations by SMS short code.

Voters in the forthcoming referendum on creating an independent South Sudan will be able to contribute to a crowd-sourced map of the country which is intended to show where it's safe to vote, as Fast Company reports for Gizmodo, providing unprecedented visibility of the democratic process in a country not known for the smooth way in which it runs elections.

The service, the Sudan Vote Monitor, runs on a platform called Uchaguzi (swahili for "decision"), which was developed by the Ushahidi group, and aggregates SMSed reports of polling station interference. These reports can then be verified by accredited observers. Voters can check, in real time, the conditions at their local polling station, which could be critical depending on how they intend to vote.

In a recent interview with Fast Company, the founder of Ushahidi explains that Twitter and other social networking platforms are great for western countries, but still require users to register before taking part, not to mention that Twitter users need comparatively high-spec kit, compared to SMS. An SMS short code allows anyone witnessing interference to report it instantly, without mucking about with user accounts and passwords. SMS is also extremely robust, as it is part of the GSM signalling system.

The Uchaguzi system has been used before, with some success, but the independence referendum on 9 January will be the first time it has been seen in Sudan. It would be nice to think the web page will be as empty then as it is now, but we fear come January the team, and the site, will be kept busy. ®

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