Carrboro, NC – Libya’s efforts to establish a stable democracy have been marred by violence and the constant threat of government collapse since the ouster of General Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Despite the seemingly endless news about the country’s political chaos, Libya accomplished something the United States could not with healthcare.gov: the successful and smooth launch of a new technology platform.
Libya implemented a national voter registration by text messaging program that registered 1.5 million voters for June 25th’s elections. It is the first system of its kind in the world. Over 6 million text messages were sent to and from the system. What’s surprising is that nothing went wrong. An even more astonishing fact? It was an American firm, NC based Caktus Group, that developed the technology. Caktus developers created the technology in less than six months and for a fraction of the cost of healthcare.gov.
“The beauty of what we do as open source developers is that we can move very very quickly,” says Tobias McNulty, Caktus CEO. “Behind our team of four developers was the open source community, a global network of developers.”
Caktus developers, working closely with the Libyan government, a data security firm, a cellular network integrator, and well known technologist, Elliott Wilkes, and Middle East expert, Hunter Price, created a system that allowed voters and poll workers to register within seconds from any location in Libya, including their own homes. Registrants texted their national ID number and the code of their preferred voting location, then received a text confirmation.
During the pivotal June 25th elections widely considered to be Libya’s tipping point, Caktus staff were in Libya, making sure the voter registration system was again working smoothly. The voter registration databases were essential to how poll workers determined whether those that showed up could vote. Any hiccup in the system would be tantamount to disenfranchisement. News of violence dominated media coverage of the election, but this one aspect of the electoral process went off without a hitch.
“We were deeply aware of the responsibility we had to Libyan voters,” said McNulty, “We constantly tested the system at each step, including the capacity to handle hundreds of thousands of simultaneous text messages. Even the smallest amount of code was raked over the coals.”
Libya continues to face many incredible challenges as a doubtful world watches on. But amongst the seemingly unending bad news, there is at least one bright spot even the US cannot claim: you can text message your voter registration while drinking a cup of coffee.
Article and picture contributed by Caktus Group. Caktus began in 2007 in Carrboro’s Creative Co-working space. It has since grown to the point that they have purchased and are currently refurbishing a building in downtown Durham.