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Lowering Barriers to Elections Using Mobile Technology

Institutions & Governance Philippines

Competitive elections are a hallmark of a healthy democracy. In competitive electoral systems leaders are more easily held responsible for their actions. This project studies how technology can increase participation in local elections and increase competitiveness. Using a custom-built SMS system during the October 2013 village-level elections in the Philippines, the project collected data on who citizens thought should run for local office. Then the system encouraged nominated individuals to run.
The project tests a novel approach to increase electoral competition in a landscape which is frequently dominated by a few families of elites. New candidates would be more independent from the current municipal and provincial leadership and less constrained in their decision making. Electoral competition will also create incentives for candidates to listen more closely to constituent concerns. In addition, many municipal, provincial and even national level politicians get their start in local office. If candidate quality and competition can be increased at the lowest level of government, this could improve the quality of future leaders at higher levels.
Preliminary results indicate that the SMS-based treatment had a significant effect on the number of candidates running for village office, and generated increased interest in the election, illustrated by higher turnout.

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