Indonesia’s pollsters gear up for quick counts

More than 205 million voters are expected to head to the polling station on Valentine’s Day to elect the next president and vice president, as well as legislators at the national and regional levels.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


Workers sort and fold ballot papers for the 2024 presidential election at a Bogor General Elections Commission warehouse in West Java on Jan. 15, 2024. PHOTO: ANTARA/THE JAKARTA POST

February 2, 2024

JAKARTA – Amid the din of self-promoting campaigns, zealous supporters and rampant misinformation, Indonesia’s pollsters are gearing up to offer credible ways to predict the results of one of the world’s most complicated general elections to be held this year.

Several polling organizations are preparing to employ quick counts for the Feb. 14 polls, a vote sampling method that observers insist remains an accountable way to offer preliminary results while the election organizers brace for a painstaking month of manual canvassing to determine the winners of the 2024 race.

More than 205 million voters are expected to head to the polling station on Valentine’s Day to elect the next president and vice president, as well as legislators at the national and regional levels.

Once polling closes, people will enter what might be a long wait for the official election results from the General Elections Commission (KPU). The vote counting process, which is lengthy and laborious, may take up to 35 days to be completed, the maximum time regulated by the Elections Law.

The public however can expect numerous early vote count results based on the vote sampling method, as registered private polling and survey institutions are gearing up to deploy thousands of volunteers and staff to polling stations nationwide.

A quick count is a statistical method that analyzes vote tallies of sampled polling stations to forecast the election results. Under the prevailing law, early vote sampling results can be announced two hours after polling in western Indonesia closes at 1 p.m.

Such pollsters include Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Cyrus Network, which will be working in collaboration to conduct a quick count and reveal the result as early as 5 to 6 p.m. in western Indonesia.

“We are now entering our final stage of preparation,” CSIS political department head Arya Fernandes told The Jakarta Post.

Arya said CSIS-Cyrus will have surveyors or “field observers”, who have passed a rigorous selection process and undergone intense training, assigned to 2,000 polling stations scattered in 38 provinces across the archipelago.

“Our field workers are largely students, who are at the very least in their fifth semester. They are required to take part in our training and simulations to ensure the integrity and professionalism of the vote count process,” Arya added.

Arya also said they would apply layers of quality control, from the intensive training of field workers to the verification of data submitted and data entry, to ensure the reliability of the results.

CSIS and Cyrus Network are part of the Indonesian Association for Public Opinion Surveys (Persepsi), which promotes professionalism among its member institutions, including most of those that will release quick count results on election day.

The quick count method of vote sampling was introduced during the first presidential election in 1999, when the government’s vote counting mechanism at the time was reportedly “near collapse” facing the country’s daunting physical geography and limited rural infrastructure. Such a vote sampling method caught on during the first direct presidential election in 2004.

In a report titled ‘The Quick Count and Election Observation’, Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) wrote of Indonesia: “The publication of those quick count results held rumors in check and helped prevent the onset of civil unrest” when official tabulations were greatly delayed.

Partisan quick count results however could prompt uncertainty, as what happened in the polarized 2014 presidential election when pollsters presented divergent results, leaving both then rivaling candidates Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subianto claiming victory on the basis of differing quick count results.

Litbang Kompas, the research arm of Kompas daily that is one of the most reliable counters and known for its independence, which will deploy its field workers to 2,000 polling stations, said it relied on the funding for its operation to ensure the results of its quick count were independent.

“We try our best to minimize the risk of outside intervention in the sampling, questioning, quality control and funding of its operations,” Litbang Kompas researcher Rangga Eka Sakti said.

“We also implement a data collection system that is quite neat and tiered. So every time data comes in, we have a verification system to ensure the incoming data reflects what is happening in the field,” he added.

Concerns about the fairness of the election process and the neutrality of the state apparatus have become more apparent less than a month before the voting day – not only among voters and activists but also among presidential candidates.

Credible and reputable quick counts will give the public a reliable benchmark, as well as a basis of evidence, against which the public can assess the official result, said election law lecturer Titi Anggraini of the University of Indonesia.

“With the official results only being determined no later than 35 days after voting day, the quick count results can help fulfill the public’s need for information,” Titi said, adding that “it must also be ensured that the quick count process is not manipulated.”

Titi said credible quick counts could serve as part of “public participation” in the elections, noting that ways to hold survey institutions accountable were by scrutinizing their management, methodology and funding — all of which must be revealed to the public as mandated by the law.

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