PVT Manager: Evenes Zuze

A Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) is:

•        an advanced and proven election monitoring methodology that allows nonpartisan citizen observers to systematically assess the quality of opening, voting, closing and counting processes.

•        In countries where the process goes well, PVT can accurately verify the official election results.

•        PVTs use direct observations by trained observers and do not ask voters’ for opinions.

Why will MESN conduct PVT for the 2014 Tripartite Elections in Malawi?

Malawi will be going for tripartite elections on 20th May 2014.Eligible voters will be voting for local government representatives, members of parliament and a president. This is a first time Malawi will be conducting tripartite elections. These elections will be the fifth in multiparty democracy in Malawi, four parliamentary and presidential and one local government. Previous parliamentary and presidential elections have been competitive and the forth coming tripartite elections will be more competitive especially at the presidential level. All contesting candidates have a potential of making it to the state presidency. Current activities by political parties and candidates clearly demonstrate that the race is going to be tight.

The Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) will be observing the forth coming elections. MESN will be deploying both long term and short term observers. Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) is a registered civil society network that was formed in 2003 and has participated in elections in Malawi in 2004 and 2009 parliamentary and presidential elections. In the previous elections MESN has implemented programs on civic and voter education and election observation. In both elections MESN implemented election observation programs including Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) and mobile observation.

Specifically in 2009 MESN with the technical and financial support from National Democratic Institute (NDI) conducted a Statistical Based Monitoring (SBM), also known as PVT, project and its results matched with the official results that were announced by MEC. SBM is similar to Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) which MESN plans to implement for 2014 elections. MESN successfully deployed 800 PVT observers in 2009.

Therefore MESN has the experience with implementing a PVT. For the 2014 elections MESN will deploy both long and short term observers across the country to observe various pre-election processes such as, political party primaries, nominations, official campaigns, polling, results handling and complaints handling by the courts and MEC.  For the short term observation MESN will be using the Parallel Voter Tabulation (PVT) methodology.

Why do a PVT?

Elections in Malawi are very competitive and results are sometimes disputed by losing candidates or political parties and violence has ensued. In this context it is important to have a PVT because;

•         It will remove uncertainty by independently validating the official presidential election results.

•         It will increase public confidence in well run elections and

•         It will reduce potentials for political violence

•         It will identify shortcomings and provide an objective basis for seeking peaceful redress and making specific improvements in the process.

•         It will produce statistically reliable and valid data on which to base an assessment. The deployment of observers and their reports are not biased in any way. Observation efforts that allow observers to go wherever it is convenient often produce biased data (i. e, usually over-representing urban areas and under-representing places that are difficult to reach).

MESN will not announce the results of the elections but will provide both qualitative and quantitative assessment of the electoral process. MESN fully recognizes that Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) has legal mandate to run and announce official results of national elections in Malawi.

Why PVT for 2014 Elections?

❖                  Malawi will be holding tripartite elections for the first time. There is a general expectation that the voting and counting exercises will be complex and confusing for most electoral staff, observers and party monitors. It is anticipated that electoral staff will be overwhelmed by amount of work that they will have to do especially during vote count and tabulation. As such it is critical to observe and validate the accuracy of  elections results that will be announced by MEC.

❖                  As it stands at this moment the presidential race will be close. The winning margins are likely to be small. This may create tension and therefore it is critical for the election to be systematically observed using a PVT. Election observation will enhance public confidence in the electoral process and assist in acceptance of the election result by the losing candidates.

❖                  While tensions within the government and some threats of violence still exist, the forth coming elections and their conduct  may help mitigate these risks if properly conducted and certified as credible by independent observers and credible observation methodologies such as PVT. The present political context offers real possibilities for deeper governance reforms to help consolidate democratic rule; and the upcoming elections, if conducted properly, provide an opportunity to advance the democratic process.

❖                  Tension is going to be high during the run up, during and after the election in Malawi. PVT can effectively diffuse tension around election time through the rapid release of information on the conduct of the polls. Using SMS technology to transmit first hand information on poll conduct, releases real time information to the central database and election stakeholders. The speed of transmitting information through PVT also means that votes can be calculated instantaneously, and that the release of the official presidential vote counts by the MEC can be immediately verified.  Based on time-tested statistical principles, PVT can provide the most comprehensive and accurate picture of the election process in Malawi, with representation given to the entire nation. Without bias, observers deployed through PVT can truly reflect Malawi’s voting patterns and voting day conduct. Not only will PVT enable MESN to verify the accuracy of the MEC electoral results, but SMS reporting  from PVT observers will also include information on the

▪                     Conduct on the opening of the poll

▪                     Conduct of voting

▪                     Conduct on vote counting by MEC officials

▪                     Verify the vote counting process

❖                  A recent survey has shown that 59% of Malawians do not trust the MEC. MEC has been accused by some political parties that it is taking orders from the ruling party and therefore doubting about independence to conduct a credible election in 2014. If this trend of accusations continues, MEC will suffer from lack of public confidence and this will affect the acceptance of results by political parties and candidates. It is therefore important to have a parallel vote tabulation to validate the official results.

Where else have PVTs been done on the African Continent?

PVTs have recently made significant contributions to the integrity and security of elections in the following countries: Ghana (2012 and 2008), Kenya (2010 and 2013), Malawi (2009), Nigeria (2011 and 2012), Uganda(2011) and Zambia(2008 and 2011).

Malawi has had two PVTs conducted my MESN and MEC has acknowledged the role played by MESN in 2009. In its final elections report for 2009 MEC acknowledged the role played by MESN in observing the elections and the use of the PVT methodology. “An innovation by one local observer, MESN, was the introduction of statistical methods to monitor polling and estimate election results on the basis of a sample of 800 out of 6774 polling streams. The MESN used the polling stream as the sampling unit and the sample was selected using single stage cluster sampling. The results of MESN confirmed those of the Electoral Commission. In addition, MESN was able to collect additional information on preparations at the polling stream and other polling related characteristics”. Malawi Electoral Commission, Parliamentary and Presidential Elections-May 2009 Report.

How is the PVT different from Opinion Polls and Exit Polls?

The PVT is an observation methodology for assessing the Election Day process and for verifying the official results. Thus,

The PVT:

•        Measures the votes as actually cast and indicates whether the results should be trusted based on information about the voting and counting process.

•        Collects specific, actionable information for improving the process in future elections.

It is not Opinion and Exit Polls which:

•         Measure recollections of how people voted

•         Measure opinions and respondents may refuse to answer and/or feel they need to lie.

What is required for a PVT to be successful?

•        Observer must have (safe) access to the polling stations for the entire Election Day process: from the opening to the voting and through the counting of the ballots.

•        MESN needs to be given a full and accurate list of all polling stations well in advance of election days so that a nationally representative sample can be drawn and observers can be recruited to cover the entire sample of stations.

•        MESN data center must be allowed to operate and receive reports from PVT observers.

 Why Sample

Although there may be an attraction to organizing the collection of all polling stations results, in practice, the enormous demand on personnel and communications systems may be prohibitive. Resources would have to be found to deploy close to 8 000 observers and these are not simply available. This is the case for the 2014 elections and hence a scientifically designed random sample of polling stations can be highly accurate and provide MESN with credible data to determine the outcome of the election.

Statistical principles drive the methodology for collecting and analyzing data. This method is grounded in broadly accepted scientific principles. These statistical principles are not just a matter of opinion or open to partisan interpretation; they are demonstrable and universally accepted. It is precisely because these principles are scientifically based that PVT organizers can make authoritative claims about election outcomes. The PVT methodology allows a group to demonstrate why election-day processes can be considered fair, or the extent to which they have been fair.

How accurate were the results projections by MESN’s PVT in 2009 elections?

The national estimates from the PVT closely matched the official results as announced by the MEC. All of the estimates were of the same magnitude as the official results and the official results for the two largest vote winners (which represent over 96% of all votes) fall within the 95% confidence interval. This provided very strong evidence that the national tabulation process was conducted properly and that the official results reflected how citizens voted on Election Day.

MESN PVT projected that DPP got 66.50% votes compared to the MEC official results of 65.98%. MESN’s estimate for DPP’s votes was extremely accurate and well within their margin of error (+/-1.8% confidence level 95%).

Below are  summarized results for 2009 PVT

Candidate  Party PVT EstimatedVote Margin of Error (95% c.i.) Votes  – ME Votes +ME OfficialResults
Bingu wa Mutharika DPP 66.50% 1.80% 64.70% 68.30% 65.98%
Kamuzu Chibambo PETRA 0.80% 0.10% 0.70% 0.90% 0.79%
Loveness Gondwe NRC 0.80% 0.10% 0.70% 0.90% 0.72%
Stanley Masauli RP 0.70% 0.10% 0.60% 0.80% 0.76%
Dindi Gowa Nyasulu AFORD 0.40% 0.00% 0.40% 0.40% 0.45%
James Nyondo Independent 0.50% 0.00% 0.50% 0.50% 0.61%
John Tembo MCP 30.30% 1.80% 28.50% 32.10% 30.69%


How does the PVT work on Election Day?

•         A PVT involves deploying well-trained, impartial citizen observers to a nationally representative, random sample of polling stations.

•         Because the PVT methodology deploys observers to a representative, random sample of polling stations (drawn prior to Election Day), the data that they collect can be used to systematically assess the quality of the process on a national scale and formulate an accurate projection of the presidential election results.

•         The PVT observers rapidly report using short message service (SMS) on a standardized form that evaluates all parts of the Election Day process from opening to voting through the counting and tabulation of results.

•         The observer reports are entered into a specialized PVT database where the data is checked for completeness and then quality control checks are performed prior to analysis.

•         Findings are released based on the data(and not on opinions).These are an unofficial results as it is only MEC that is mandated by law to announce official results of an election.

•         For the 2014 election, MESN will deploy over 2 000 observers for the 2014 elections

What types of Information does the PVT collect?

The PVT collects two types of information;

1.     Qualitative: information on the conduct of the Election Day Process

•         PVT observers use a standardized form that allows them to examine the integrity of the voting and counting processes for the entire country.

•         Citizen organization knows whether to have confidence in the vote results by evaluating the conduct of the Election Day Process


2.     Results: information on the outcome of the Presidential Election and Turnout.

•         This data is examined only after the information on the conduct has demonstrated that the voting and counting processes went well

•         PVTs can project voting results and voter turnout with a high level of precision (i.e., low margins of error)

What can the PVT not measure?

•         The PVT cannot evaluate things that happen in the pre-election period, such as problems with voter registration. The PVT can only evaluate the process that takes place on Election Day

•         Only information standardized on the PVT observer form can be used to produce findings and project estimates ( e.g., the PVT will not project the results of the parliamentary election)

•         The PVT cannot tell you a vote’s motivation for voting.


PVT is an important and trusted methodology in election observation for civil society organizations. Its implementation in 2014 will add great value to the electoral process .MESN will build on its 2009 experience in making sure that the 2014 PVT is more successful. MESN fully recognizes the role of MEC in managing elections in Malawi. It will put in all necessary measures that will make the PVT process credible and achieve its goal of validating official election results as announced by MEC.