Data journalism site’s pioneering project provides real-time coverage of Peruvian presidential elections

In order to ensure a more transparent electoral process, on June 5, the Peruvian data journalism portal Convoca decided to carry out a project to provide readers, in real-time and from its own website, the results of the second round of elections for the country’s presidency. The news site also created a social media campaign where people could report irregularities in the voting process.

“We knew the results [of the second round] were going to be tightened; there was a lot of alarm on social networks (…) for fear of fraud, linked to Fujimorismo,” said Milagros Salazar Herrera, Peruvian journalist and director of Convoca, to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

And the possible return of Fujimorismo to power, represented by Keiko Fujimori, caused concern among some Peruvians. Keiko Fujimori is the daughter of the former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) who was convicted of corruption and crimes against human rights, among other charges. He was also accused of fraudulently winning the 2000 elections in which he was elected president for the third time.

With these precedents, there was concern during the recent electoral period, which was full of controversy after allegations of some irregularities. For example, Julio Guzmán, a candidate with large citizen representation, was expelled by the National Jury of Elections (JNE for its acronym in Spanish) one month before the vote. However, the Popular Force party of Keiko Fujimori continued in the race for the presidency despite also being the subject of several complaints of irregularities to the JNE during the campaign.

Consequently, Convoca contacted the state agency responsible for counting votes in Peru, the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE), in order to develop the project. The news site was inspired by the real-time coverage of the 2015 Guatemalan elections by news site Plaza Pública,

This agency gave them direct access to its computer unit, allowing Convoca to display all voting data in real time “faster and more clearly than the institution” itself, Salazar emphasized. The information was placed on a map of Peru, divided in regions, with the hashtag #ConteoDecisivo (#CrucialCount).

In this way, Salazar said, Convoca.pe became the first Peruvian digital media outlet to transmit electoral information in real time.

The technology used for this platform, Salazar explained, was Back-end PHP and Front-end Canvas.

The site did not just publish information about voting. According to the director of Convoca, they wanted to add value to electoral voting information, deepening it with interviews with experts on the subject. They wanted to discuss various data and developing issues that need to be resolved in each region of the country, like topics of health, quality of employment, the environmental situation, among others. For this project, they used the hashtag #Hablanlosexpertos (#TheExpertsTalk).

The news site also created the hashtag #AlertaElectoral (#ElectoralAlert), which allowed more than 520 people, through more than 920 Tweets, to report alleged irregularities during the day of voting.

With the latter hashtag, which began trending on social networks an hour after it was first published, citizens (mainly in Peru) managed to use Twitter to denounce alleged irregularities by individuals identified as suspected collaborators and sympathizers of Popular Force, Keiko Fujimori’s party. Some of these complaints, coming from different cities around the country, were related to delays in the installation of polling stations, discoveries of political proselytism in polling stations, as well as erroneous results in the electronic voting system.

Elvis Rivera, a developer that worked on the Convoca project, systematized all citizen alerts received through social networks in a database, highlighting the most recurrent. He also verified that the accounts where the information came from belonged to real users.

Some of these citizen complaints were resolved with the assistance of the ONPE and other media in the interior regions of the country as well as Convoca. For example, in Arequipa, a department in southern Peru, a woman claimed to have found ballots marked with the choice of Popular Force at her voting center. El Búho, a digital news outlet in the region, reported this case to the Special Electoral Jury of Arequipa, which promised to investigate.

Other media outlets also worked in real-time. During the presidential debates, data journalism site Ojo Público simultaneously verified or disproved statements made by candidates during debates. The site used the hashtags #OjoBiónico and #FactChecking and ranked the answers of the candidates with the following categories: misleading, debatable, false, true or unsustainable.

On June 9, it was announced that Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, former Minister of Economy and Finance and former first president of the Council of Ministers of former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), was elected President of the country. Kuczynski won by 0.124 percent.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.