At the Mihal Grameno school on the outskirts of Kosovo’s capital Prishtina, three signs greeted voters as they cast their ballots in parliamentary elections this weekend: “No guns,” “No smoking,” and “Report election fraud via text message.”
“One of the reasons I voted today,” said Vjosa Misini of Fushë Kosovë while exiting the school, “was that I had more confidence in the integrity of the election because of Vote & Watch.” Misini was referring to the platform launched by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society (KFOS), which empowered all Kosovar citizens to be watchdogs over their own electoral process. And active watchdogs they were.
Despite low overall turnout, citizens submitted close to 16,000 text messages to Vote & Watch on election day. For those who had stood witness to some of Kosovo’s previous elections, the fact that the vast majority of those messages came back positive was cause for relief.
Indeed, when Kosovo last held parliamentary elections in 2010, large-scale tampering with ballot boxes was documented. The population was left embittered, spurring KFOS to establish Vote & Watch to deter bad behavior going forward, document fraud should it occur, instill a heightened sense of democratic ownership among the populace, and collect data to feed into long-overdue electoral reforms.
It is not possible to draw conclusive causality links between Vote & Watch and the fact that this weekend’s voting saw no repeat of the fraud and controversy surrounding the 2010 democratic contest. The campaign’s main purpose was to act as a deterrent to prevent fraud, which—despite some isolated incidents—seems to have been largely achieved.
The fact that citizens disbursed nearly 16,000 text reports, even in the absence of large-scale problems (86 percent reported everything was ok), suggests that civic activism and ownership over the electoral process was heightened. As for feeding into the forthcoming debate on electoral reform, which is sorely overdue, we are deploying a team of experts to review the data collected from citizens and advocate for appropriate solutions.
Politically, very little changed on election day. The governing party edged out its main rival, and everything looks set to return to the status quo ante. But in terms of process, everything changed.
Emerging from the Dardania school in central Prishtina shortly before polls closed, Anita Gora summarized the campaign well: “I want my children to grow up in a country with honest elections,” she said. “Vote & Watch makes that more likely.” We hope it can make it more likely that her children will get that chance.