Bio-metric Voter Registration: Promoting Electoral Integrity
Published in the Newsday on March 22 2017
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has begun the roll-out of the Bio-metric Voter Registration (BVR) in preparation for the 2018 harmonized elections. BVR incorporates total automatic data capturing with advanced technology from captured digital images of voter forms. This patented accurate personal and demographic data capturing technology provides a low cost solution that incorporates data such as signature, fingerprints and personal picture and maintains the auditable integrity of voter registration forms that are signed by the voters. The move by the government, through ZEC, to adopt the BVR points to a positive direction in fulfilling the proposed reforms of the electoral agenda. It should be pointed out that the BVR is not a panacea to the problems encountered in previous elections in Zimbabwe. However, if done well, it can play a vital role in ensuring the transparency of the electoral process.
The Bio-metric Voter Registration (BVR) electoral system can only achieve its meaningful impact to promote transparency and improve the credibility of elections in Zimbabwe if not manipulated. The BVR should allow for the transparent and efficient handling of votes through using computer technology to record the identity of voters and facilitating electronic voting, counting and voter analysis.
The intention to introduce biometrics in Zimbabwe for the 2018 elections has enhanced ZEC’s credibility, and should be applauded as a step in the right direction. However, the major concern coming from citizen include potential intimidation of prospective voters by some political parties by threatening them of the ability of the BVR system to detect the voter’s candidate of choice. It is worrying that some citizens that have participated in ZEC awareness and education programmes on the BVR are already living in fear of being exposed during polling.
Within these circumstances, it should be noted that the effectiveness of the BVR can only be recognised if applied in tandem with the political-will and sincerity of authorities in charge, who are tasked with guaranteeing fairness and ensuring inclusion of all citizens. Biometric technology cannot solve problems rooted in issues such as mistrust among stakeholders or lack of political freedoms. Elections, at the end of the day, are a political process.
Despite all the challenges, the introduction of biometrics in the compilation of voter registers should improve the accuracy of the voter registers and provide the foundation for clean and violence free elections.
It is the position of Transparency International Zimbabwe (TI-Z) that ZEC should be encouraged to be open and transparent and involve stakeholders in the implementation of the BVR.
TI-Z recommends that:
- BVR technology should manage to cut down on human errors and the filling of forms prior to registration, to reduce the time it takes to register each eligible voter
- The BVR process should not be driven by vendor or external interests and it should also be home grown with sufficient buy in of national stakeholders
- The process should be inclusive and transparent with stakeholders being consulted and informed on a regular basis
- ZEC and CSOs should raise the awareness on the BVR to citizens so as to bridge the information gap and instill public confidence.