Mandela Washington Fellow Fatu Ogwuche – an international election observer in Washington, D.C.

Selfie of a young woman standing outside.
Fatu Ogwuche outside the polling place where she observed local Washington, D.C. elections. (Photo courtesy Fatu Ogwuche)

Fatu Ogwuche, a Mandela Washington Fellow (2015), traveled to Washington, D.C., to act as an international election observer in the November 2016 U.S. presidential election. She is currently working on election projects in Ghana, The Gambia, Kenya, Liberia and the U.S. (See full bio below.) The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.

Elections have been an intriguing part of my life for a long time; I believe that the first step to a great democracy is credible elections. I’ve done a lot of work around elections in Africa, developing tools for technology and improving electoral processes. It has come to be my life’s passion and a career that I’m deeply committed to.

The U.S. elections have always been fascinating to me because of the vibrancy of the campaigns, their competitive nature, and how you get to see how candidates appeal to the people to serve them. Campaign seasons are always fun and, of course, the jabs are hysterical. This election was going to be monumental and historic for several reasons, and I knew there was no way I was going to miss it.

I’m an elections and technology wonk. I had to be there to witness an election which had befuddled pundits and pollsters. I was particularly interested in the adoption of technology for the elections by campaigns and independent organizations. I worked with Facebook and Twitter during Nigeria’s elections last year, so I was interested in learning more about their plans for the U.S. elections and they didn’t disappoint.

I learnt a lot being here and now I have all these amazing ideas I’m looking forward to executing when I get back to Nigeria and my projects across the continent. I’m really excited about the future of technology and elections in Africa!

What I saw on Election Day:

Elections in the U.S. are very organized and easy:

  • Easy access to polls, often in local public schools.
  • E-voting (electronic voting systems) and paper ballot options for voters.
  • Early voting option for voters who choose to cast their votes before Election Day (in many states).
  • Absentee ballot option for U.S. citizens living overseas to vote long-distance.
  • Translators for Spanish-speaking voters help non-native English speakers participate in the election process.
  • An inclusive process to make it easy for seniors and persons living with disabilities to use the voting machines unassisted.
  • Easy processes drive engagement; the easier the process the more people are willing to engage. I noticed at some polling stations I went to, millennials chose to use the paper ballot instead of the e-voting machines, while seniors braved the e-voting machines. It was interesting to watch. I wondered what drove that pattern.

Some differences between U.S. and African elections that I have observed:

A major difference between the U.S. electoral process and Nigeria’s, for example, is that the states have different electoral laws that guide them. Organizations can aid in conducting voter registration drives in collaboration with secretaries of state to drive engagement in the electoral process. It creates opportunities for more voters to register and lightens the load of the electoral commission. Rock the Vote does a great job in engaging young voters and registering them for the elections by organizing concerts with their favorite stars and bus tours!

What I learned:
I met wonderful people doing great work with technology for the elections, including the rock stars at Rock the Vote and Facebook. Facebook does amazing work designing tools to engage their users on elections. This has had a lot of impact in getting voters out to register, providing them information on their polling stations, and reminding them to go out to vote on Election Day. Meeting these groups of people gave me a lot of ideas on civic engagement strategies for upcoming elections in Africa. I’m working on some really great projects with the upcoming elections in Africa — so be on the lookout!

About Fatu Ogwuche:
Fatu Ogwuche is an elections and technology consultant and a Mandela Washington Fellow with expertise in developing technology for elections and situation rooms. She was instrumental in establishing the INEC Citizens Contact Centre (ICCC) at Nigeria’s Electoral Commission, where she developed strategies for citizen engagement using technology and new media. She created partnerships with tech giants Twitter and Facebook to advance citizen engagement and encourage participation in the electoral process. She is currently working on election projects in Ghana, The Gambia, Kenya, Liberia and the U.S.

She is deeply passionate about democracy and elections in Africa and is consistently involved in exploring and designing tools for elections in Africa.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.

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