What is ELMO?

ELMO is The Carter Center’s open-source ELection MOnitoring data collection and reporting system, built specifically with election monitoring in mind. Equipped with ELMO, observers can submit evaluations of a process – via tablets (utilizing Open Data Kit), SMS, or directly online – in real-time to mission headquarters. ELMO’s reporting system organizes observer findings, and is relied upon by The Carter Center missions around the globe to analyze data and to assess elections as well as broader political processes.

The open source license for ELMO is Apache 2.0. ELMO can be hosted on personal servers and users can control who has access to the data.

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Election Monitoring and Beyond
ELMO’s capabilities extend far beyond election monitoring. Customizable forms and reports make the collection and processing of a wide variety of data possible. Mapping the contours of a conflict, evaluating health program performance, and understanding gender-based violence within and across societies are a few instances of what ELMO might help do. ELMO will also eventually link observations automatically to specific obligations for democratic elections.

Fully Open Source Ownership and Citizenship
ELMO’s open source license for ELMO means that anyone can run the latest version of ELMO on their own servers and own all the data collected. ELMO owners can also grant access to the users of their choice. You can see ELMO code and development notes located at GitHub (See the link in the top menu).

While The Carter Center developed ELMO for its own use and to share the tool with others, it is important to note that a ELMO report produced by another organization using ELMO is separate and independent from the Center; The Carter Center does not vet and is not responsible for any ELMO data results other than its own. The quality of ELMO data and any associate reports will depend greatly on the skill, training, and analysis of the individual user.

By sharing ELMO, however, The Carter Center hopes to deepen understandings of election observation practice with the wider public. At the same time, as part of this open source effort, The Carter Center hopes ELMO participants and users will share their lessons learned, code, or implementation materials back with the ELMO team and GitHub ELMO core. We believe that it is through the mutual sharing of resources that election observation – or indeed any human rights-based data collection efforts — can gain critical ground that no single organization could accomplish on its own.


ELMO began as a way for the The Carter Center to improve its own observation efforts. In late 2011 and early 2012, The Carter Center observers deployed the first prototypes of ELMO during the Liberian and Cherokee Nation elections, submitting their findings via smart phone. ELMO has since evolved to allow the submission of observation data via smartphone, tablet, SMS, and directly online.

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Each international election observation helps advance ELMO’s development. 2012 saw the successful use of ELMO by observers on tablets during both rounds of the Egyptian presidential elections, and then for Libya’s legislative elections.

Prior to the use of ELMO, staff would spend upwards of 20 hours manually transmitting and inputting data before analysis could begin. For the March 2013 Kenyan national and regional elections, nearly 30 short-term observer teams submitted their results in real time. ELMO collected nearly 400 data checklists in 36 hours through out the election day processes, covering aspects such as polling station opening, voting operations, counting and tabulation. The Carter Center developed additional features in ELMO’s real-time reporting for the November 2013 Constituent Assembly elections in Nepal. Headquarters staff were able to better analyze data and make initial assessments quickly and confidently.

Our work with citizen observation has also contributed to ELMO’s growth. In the latter half of 2013, long-term citizen observers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reported to ELMO for the first time via SMS from cell phones. Reports addressed critical pre-election issues, including political space, security, and public opinion in several provinces across the country. This pilot laid the groundwork for greater technological capacity with our citizen observation partners in the DRC and beyond.

In 2014, The Carter Center used ELMO in the October presidential and parliamentary elections in Mozambique, working on tablets and in partnership with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa. The Carter Center also utilized ELMO in the October parliamentary and November presidential elections in Tunisia, where observers deployed using Android based phones to report.

ELMO Functions

ELMO immediately transmits observer findings from polling stations to headquarters, allowing a richer picture of an election to emerge in real-time. These results help observation missions to determine more quickly if an election is credible. Beyond simple data collection, ELMO includes features for managing data-centered field work, including: versatile form design; real-time and customized data analysis; form standardization; multiple mediums of data transmission; multilingual translation, and the ability to send broadcast messages to observer teams.

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Standard Form Design
Standard forms (also known as “checklists”), their questions, and the available answers to questions can be created in ELMO. Standardization eliminates the need for observation groups to remake checklists for every mission, and allows allows users to compare findings across missions.While election administration is largely similar from country to country, specific regulations can vary by country, and so should the design of the form, the questions in it, and the answers available. ELMO allows for customized design of forms for the mission at hand.

Reports and Real-time Analysis
ELMO stores and aggregates incoming data so that field and headquarters staff can quickly chart, graph, and analyze information while writing reports. Data can also be exported from ELMO for further review in other analytical software.The “dashboard” view on ELMO allows for real-time data analytics, featuring an overview of data gathered from observers including: number of forms sent and from which observer team; a snapshot of the most recent forms sent; and a map that indicates the location from which sent responses.

Multiple Mediums of Data Transmission
Communication conditions change within and among countries and so do the demands and budgets of missions. ELMO was developed so that data can be transmitted on a variety of devices with internet or wireless technologies. ELMO can be used on smart phones, tablets, and laptops in low broadband settings. ELMO SMS also enables observers to collect and submit data in areas with weak internet connectivity.

Multilingual Translation
Language settings are easily customized in ELMO. The translation function allows the ELMO interface, forms, questions, and option sets to be translated into other languages. ELMO is currently available in French, and an Arabic version is under development.

Broadcast Messages
The broadcast function allows ELMO administrators to communicate with observers via SMS or email. A message can be sent to all observers through the broadcast console.

ELMO Benefits

ELMO makes quantitative data gathering and analysis increasingly simple, immediate, efficient, and powerful.

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Increased Simplicity for Observers and Mission Staff
Checklists can be sent with a click of a button to headquarters. Also, if data is erroneous or missing from a form, ELMO can prompt the observer for correction. Finally, less manual entry means fewer reporting, tabulation, and calculation errors.

Immediate Tabulation and Analysis of Data
ELMO immediately tabulates results sent by observers, thus automating the transfer, coding, and aggregation of data – some of the most onerous and time-consuming parts of observation. This allows staff to focus their energy on data analysis and on producing statements and reports.

Efficient Data Documentation, Transfer and Storage
Multiple ELMO forms can be saved to a tablet if connectivity is an issue, allowing observers to send their results in batches until wifi or wireless access is available. ELMO also allows data on tablets to be safely backed up and transferred via USB or SD cards while data on servers can be backed up daily and eventually also backed up through cloud storage.

More Powerful Data Analysis
ELMO data can be presented in multiple formats, including graphs, charts, and maps, and can be exported to more powerful software for deeper study.

Watch how observers used ELMO in Nepal’s 2013 Constituent Assembly Elections

Partners and Support

An initiative of the Democracy Program at The Carter Center, ELMO has been generously supported by the following organizations and individual donors:

  • Bedford Falls Foundation
  • Peter Danzig and Lava Thomas
  • The John C. and Karyl Kay Hughes Foundation
  • Irish Aid
  • Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Norwegian Agency for International Development Cooperation
  • Steve Nothern
  • Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
  • United States Agency for International Development

Contact the ELMO Team

Feel free to contact the ELMO team at info[at]getelmo.org with any questions or comments.

This post is also available in: French