Ghanaian Chronicle

The Electoral Commission and the looming pitfalls of the biometric exercise

Date published: September 29, 2011

By: Ursula Owusu

Since the advent of the 4th Republic, we have agitated for and worked towards a systematic improvement of our electoral system and this effort has been spear headed by the New Patriotic Party (NPP). From the days of opaque ballot boxes and poor voter ID cards which generated massive ballot stuffing, impersonation and multiple voting, we have come a long way and in the process earned international praise for the manner in which our elections have been conducted. The benefits of free, fair and transparent elections are too obvious to restate here and it is in our collective interest to strive to maintain our well-deserved reputation. A credible voters register is the first step towards ensuring an acceptable election.

The Chairman of the NPP, Jake ObetsebiLamptey, after several unanswered calls on the EC to convene an Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) meeting to discuss arrangements towards the voter registration exercise and other matters affecting the 2012 elections,sent another letter to the Chairman of the Electoral Commission last week. In it, he raised his party’s concerns about the technical quality of the equipment the EC is seeking to procure for the exercise, the timing for its conduct and the manner in which the registration and voting will be conducted. The concerns expressed by the NPP are so grave that if not addressed satisfactorily, they could endanger the impending 2012 Elections. This piece seeks to examine the impact of these concerns from a lay person’s perspective and should be read against the backdrop of the EC and the National Democratic Congress NDC government early opposition to biometric registration and e-voting.

As Ghana is not the first country in the world to embark on a biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise, we can learn from the experience of others and ensure that we strive to meet the minimum standards set for a credible BVR. My information is that cameras for this exercise should have not less than 10 megapixels to guarantee proper clarity of the image captured and for good reason too. The higher the megapixel, the clearer the image it will produce, making it easier to identify the person whose image is captured.

 The Electoral Commission’s tender document which outlines the basic specifications of the biometric equipment they want to buy for our BVR, states that the camera to capture the facial biometric features should have a minimum of 2 megapixels. So the first question is why is the EC seeking to buy a camera which falls so far below the basic minimum international standard for a credible biometric register? Some mobile phones even have higher megapixels and can therefore produce clearer pictures. One logical conclusion to draw from this is that the EC and the ruling NDC are not interested in capturing clear, indisputable images of Ghanaians for the BVR and the fuzzy, blurred pictures these 2 megapixel cameras produce can be challenged and deleted from the register. If many of these challenges occur in NPP strongholds and the people are consequently disenfranchised, you can imagine what will happen in this country. Blurred pictures can also facilitate voter impersonation especially, if there is no verification at the polls and one can’t help wondering if this is why we are being led down this path to destruction.

In the same vein, the international standard for the finger print capture equipment is a minimum of 1200 dpi. The EC wants one which is 500 dpi and one can ask the same question and draw similar conclusions as above. WHY? Is this to facilitate some grand plan to rig the elections in favour of one party?

To illustrate the EC’s conduct graphically, if one wants to buy a TV in this age of colour, flat screen, high definition TV’s (HDTV) will you buy a clunky black and white TV just because that is also a TV, or will you buy the rediffusion box used in colonial times if you want a radio today? This is exactly what the EC operating under the NDC government, is seeking to do with our BVR.

Do we want to improve on the current manual voters register and produce a credible BVR, or are we merely going to spend money going through the motions and produce a corrupted register? Poor technical specifications will produce a discredited register which can facilitate rigging and result in electoral violence which we all do not want. If we want a BVR, we must get one all Ghanaians can have confidence in for the sake of the peace of our country.

The NPP has also stated in its letter that without verification the BVR will not be worth the paper it is printed on. What is the point in capturing the fingerprints of voters if their identity isn’t going to be confirmed at the point of voting? If one wants to use a credit card, the identity of the card holder is confirmed at the point of sale by asking for the unique Personal Identification Number (PIN) to be inserted before the transaction is concluded, every time the card is used. This simple measure is to prevent fraud and theft as it verifies that the person using the card is the one it was issued to and not a thief or impersonator. A similar principle is used here when E-Zwich card users are asked to verify their fingerprints on the machine before their transaction is concluded.

Why are the Electoral Commission and the NDC against this simple means of ensuring that the voter holding the card at the polling station is the same person whose details were captured during the registration exercise and not an impersonator or thief? Why are fingerprints to be captured during the registration exercise if this information will not be used? Verification is also an effective means of checking multiple voting so if we are serious about preventing people from voting more than once, we should not be arguing about this basic requirement for a credible election, or is this opposition to verification also part of the grand rigging plan?

I am calling on all well-meaning Ghanaians to rise up and declare that NO VERIFICATION, NO BIOMETRIC!

Another issue the NPP will not compromise on is the ‘tot tot’ registration planned by the EC. Judging by the woeful manner in which the District Assembly Elections were conducted and the resultant disenfranchisement of many would be voters, the NPP will insist on the registration exercise being conducted simultaneously at all registration centres, and not in phases as the EC intends doing. Simultaneous registration will also minimise the opportunity for fraud. If Nigeria was able to register about 70 million voters in 2 weeks (14 days), Ghana has no justification for seeking to register approximately 10 million voters in 3 months (90 days)!

Judging by the difficulties the national ID system which was conducted in the same a piecemeal fashion is facing, with many people who registered still not having received their cards, records getting misplaced for entire registration areas etc., we will be foolhardy to consider doing another ‘tot tot’ exercise.

Talking about Nigeria, what stops us from leasing the machines they used for their BVR just as other African countries lease our equipment from time to time? They used over 100,000 machines for their registration and these are currently available. We only need about 30,000 in our 23,000 polling stations to conduct this exercise simultaneously with extra for back up. This option will invariably be cheaper, faster and will enable us conduct the registration at all centres simultaneously. We can also benefit from their practical experience and avoid the mistakes they made, if any. Frankly, with the rapid advances in technology, any machine we buy today will be obsolete by the next registration exercise and we will have to spend more money replacing or upgrading it. We can make huge savings by leasing equipment instead of buying  and another indirect benefit will be that the EC will be able to make up for lost time as it is currently behind its own schedule for election 2012.

Sometimes the best solution is so simple and obvious that we tend to disregard it.

The good Lord reveals to redeem so I urge the EC, NDC government and all Ghanaians to heed these early warning signs and take the necessary steps to resolve them satisfactorily to avoid plunging our dear country into the chaos which can result from a disputed registration exercise and election.

A word to the wise……

The author is the NPP Parliamentary Candidate, Ablekuma South.

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