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Libyan Newswire

Biometric technologies have failed to guarantee integrity of elections in Africa

BiomtericsBiometric technologies have failed to guarantee integrity of elections in Africa

Published 1 April 2015

As Nigerians voted this past weekend in the 2015 presidential elections, there were many reports of technical problems with electronic fingerprint readers, intended to verify voters’ identities before they cast their ballots.At least twenty-five African countrieshave held elections with voters using some sort of electronic voting system. Many of these efforts have failed. Experts say that African governments should not divert public funds to expensive electronic voting systems, and use these funds instead on ways to eliminate voter intimidation, post-election violence, and ballot fraud — all of which are attributes of current election periods regardless of how votes are submitted.

As Nigerians voted this past weekend in the 2015 presidential elections, accusations of election fraud were rampant. Technical problems with electronic fingerprint readers, intended to verify voters’ identities before they cast their ballots, even affected incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, who had to waitnearly fifty minutes before he was able to vote after the card reader failed to recognize his identity. Similar problems with biometric voter systems around the country forced the election to be extended for a second day as many Nigerians failed to cast their votes with the verification delays.

At least twenty-five African countries including Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cote d’Ivoire have heldelections with voters using some sort of electronic voting system. Many of these efforts have failed. In Ghana’s 2012 election, biometric kits failed in many parts of the country, leaving voting to be extended to a second day. In Kenya’s 2013 presidential election, both the biometric kits and the electronic tally system malfunctioned, forcing manual counting of votes. In Somaliland’s 2010 presidential elections, biometric voting systems were used but the final count was so contested that the systems were abandoned in subsequent local council elections.

According to Mail and Guardian Africa, while biometric systems are intended to provide an honest voting count and prevent multiple voting so election results can be credible, thereby reducing the likelihood of violence, in Africa, biometric systems often fail for preventable reasons. In Kenya, many classrooms used as polling stations for the 2013 presidential election lacked electricity, and laptops used as part of the biometric kits ran out of power just an hour after polling began. In Nigeria, polling stations had to ask many voters to wash their hands before coming to be verified to vote. According to election officials, the biometric kits find it much easier to read the fingerprints of voters when their hands are clean.

Biometric systems can also fail for reasons beyond technical glitches. In Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya, independent electoral bodies can be corrupt. In some cases, they make biometric voting systems more accessible in areas favorable to their desired candidates. In another case, top officials in Kenya’s defunct Interim Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission have been implicated in a bribery scandal involving a British supplier that paid bribes worth $541,000 to secure printing contracts in Kenya.

While many African nations continue to experiment with electronic voting systems as a way of boosting democratic credentials, increasing voter engagement, and showing technological improvements, most Western countries are abandoning the method. In the 2012 U.S. presidential election, only 39 percent of voters used electronic voting machines. Only two European countries — Belgium and France — use electronic ballots.

Experts say that African governments should not divert public funds to expensive electronic voting systems, and use these funds instead on ways to eliminate voter intimidation, post-election violence, and ballot fraud — all of which are attributes of current election periods regardless of how votes are submitted.

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