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Follow elections with digital tools

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On Wednesday many South Africans will be queuing up at their voting stations to cast their vote. Although they will be relying on the trusted paper ballot method, KERRY LITTLEWOOD outlines some digital tools to keep up with the 2014 general election process.

Following what for many has felt like the longest campaign period in South Africa’s 20yrs of democracy, the 2014 general elections are finally here. Following the months of political tit-for-tat, it’s easy to think that – bar making a foray to your voting station – it’s best to just hunker down in bed until the results are announced.

However, let’s not give in just yet. With us still relying on the tried and trusted paper ballot, the vote counting process can take a while, relative to the other (often disputed) voting technologies out there.

Though the digital forms of voting may seem questionable, to stay up to date in this final stretch of the elections there are a number of digital tools available for the hooked up and clued up voters.

IEC South Africa app

Available for Android, iOS, and Windows 8 mobile devices, this mobile application is developed by South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). The IEC manages elections at all levels of government. In the app you can check your registration status (though if it at this point you’re still not sure, where have you been) who your ward councillor is, and where exactly you ought to be going to vote. In a FAQ section, the app also provides invaluable information about the electoral process, your rights, and contact details should something not go right on the big day.

IXSA

Perhaps something to keep the kids entertained as you queue, also developed by the IEC, IXSA is a 3D digital game which aims to introduce first-time voters to the voting process in what the commission calls a “fun, interactive and innovative way.” According to the IEC, the game allows users to pick an avatar and then follow the character on Election Day – facing a number of challenges along the way therefore educating voters on how, when, and where to cast their vote. The game can be downloaded for Android and iPhone devices, and additionally, can be played on Facebook.

Google Election Hub

Available to some 40 nations, Google, in this round of elections, launched its Election Hub tool in South Africa. The tool, as the name implies, aims to be an online repository of all election related news. The tool allows you to filter news by both political parties and hot button topics like Education, Crime, Land Reform, and Corruption. Google has previously said that in building the hub, it worked with media, civil society organisations and political parties, “enabling them to use technology to innovate during the elections, and allow voters and politicians to share, discuss, and make informed decisions.

Find Your Representative

Remembering that it’s not only during elections we can and should interact with our political leaders, the Find Your Representative tool quickly and easily lets you find the details of your particular representatives.

The tool is developed by the People’s Assembly, a group which aims to promote accountability and bridge the gap between ordinary people and their elected representatives. There are about 350 Constituency Offices around the country where members of the public can approach elected representatives and ask for help. Parliament has described the role of Parliamentary Constituency Offices as follows: “The Parliamentary Constituency Offices play a vital role in enabling the public to become active citizens and to take part in parliamentary activities. Services that give effect to this are direct interaction with MPs and the opportunity to lobby representatives, report-backs from MPs and advice on how to access services from both public and private sector establishments.

News 24 elections app

Following in the footsteps of its highly popular general news app, New24, South Africa’s most popular news website, has released a elections dedicated app. Available for Android and iOS devices, News24 says the app allows you to “be the first to know the latest news, controversy and practical voting information”. The app allows you to follow a particular political party for the latest info and news, read biographies of key political figures, gives you historical context on “all major parties” and of course, read up on the latest general election news.

SA Votes app

Curiously not explicitly stated in the apps name, the SA Votes app is developed by South Africa’s Mail & Guardian (M&G) team. Since late last year, the M&G has joined the ranks of numerous traditional media houses which now see themselves as “digital first”. This app, also available for Android and iOS devices, promises to allow you to stay informed of the latest breaking news, opinions, results and information surrounding the elections. In the Android app store, whilst praising overall content, reviews have again and again made note of the app’s bugginess, so be warned.

Whilst all these tools are great additions for getting your mind around #SADecides2014, don’t discount social media. On your social networks, check out what the buzz and chatter is in hashtags and trending topics. With the up-to-the-minute commentary social networks can’t be beaten, on 7 May itself, the most pertinent and interesting news will be found, shared and discussed there. But in using these networks, don’t forget that the IEC has declared that thou shalt not selfie in a ballot booth.

* Kerry Littlewood is Head of Digital at South Africa’s leading multiplatform content marketing agency New Media Publishing

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