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October 23, 2011

Tunisian Lawyers Respond to Concerns by Text Message

By Rabiah Alicia Burks

WASHINGTON­– A text message election law helpline will help Tunisian citizens on their upcoming Election Day.

Today’s vote will be the first free election process that Tunisian citizens will have had in generations. Tunisians will elect local representatives to write a new constitution for the country.

In order to ensure everything runs smoothly, volunteer lawyers will be available to directly answer citizen concerns via text message.

“At the headquarters in Tunis, they will be able to keep track of where all of the problems are occurring, and if they start seeing patterns rather than just individual instances, they can contact the Election Commission,” said Kathleen O’Keefe, election law specialist for the _ Rule of Law Initiative, a public service project of the world’s largest lawyers organization, dedicated to promoting rule of law around the world.

If a citizen witnesses something unusual at a polling station or has a question related to the elections, he or she can send a text message to volunteer lawyers who will be on hand to respond to questions, said Jacob Korenblum, co-founder of Souktel Inc, the company that created the text messaging system.  The messages will be monitored using an interactive map that will group the complaints by location. This will help them to quickly identify potential election issues.

If a citizen witnesses something unusual at a polling station or has a question related to the elections, he or she can send a text message to volunteer lawyers who will be on hand to respond to questions, said Saida Akremi, Treasurer of the TBA. The messages will be monitored using an interactive system that will group the complaints by location and level of seriousness. This will help them to quickly identify potential election issues and to decide in which way they may intervene.

Lawyers have been trained by the Tunisian Bar Association to respond to questions that range from finding a resident’s polling place to handling potential election law violations.

The Tunisian Bar Association decided that text messaging would be the best way for lawyers and citizens to communicate.

“Text messaging, simple SMS, is something available on any phone set  — if you have a cell phone you can do it,” Korenblum said. “It’s really great leveler in a way: if you are in a rural community or low-income community, you don’t have to go out and buy a new phone to be able to participate in this kind of service.”

The text messaging service reaches the most number of people at the least cost, Korenblum said.

ABA News Service is a free service of the _. News and media organizations may use, republish, reprint or redistribute this content with credit to ABA News Service as the original source of this content.

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