Biometric voting refers to the casting of ballots via an electronic system which identifies voters by means of a biometric feature (usually fingerprint). Biometric systems are generally considered to be safe and secure in most of their applications. In this regard, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has resolved to implement a US$55 million dollar biometric voting system ahead of the 2018 harmonized elections. This will replace the current manual system which relies on the national identification (ID) card for voter authentication. Under the current system, when a person registers to vote, they must supply their national ID and on polling day. The voter’s identity is verified against the ID they produce. The current system is extremely slow and can easily be manipulated.
Why Biometric Voting?
- Prevent duplicate registrations
- Provide a simple and user-friendly interface for registering and identifying voters
- Is easily scalable
- Ensure quick and precise biometric voting identification
- Provide a clear and easily accessible audit trail
- Facilitate interoperability between government agencies for database consolidation and maintenance
Zimbabwe joins DRC, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Malawi in implementation of Biometric system in SADC.
High price to pay
Technology always brings its own challenges. With electronic voter registration comes the challenge of cost. According to reports, established democracies incur poll costs of $1 to $3. Implementation of an electronic system significantly increases these costs. In Kenya’s 2013 election, with a final bill of over $200 million, the polls cost $20 per voter, and in Cote d’Ivoire, the last election was $44 per voter. In the DR Congo, the elections of 2011 cost $360 million, with $58 million of that spent on biometrics. Ghana, a smaller country with better infrastructure than DR Congo, spent $124 million on its 2012 elections, but a comparatively bigger chunk went to the biometric kits: $76 million. Rita Makau, the ZEC chairperson says the biometric voter registration that Zimbabwe is planning to implement will cost US$55 million.
More about the technology
A biometric system basically captures a human body element like a fingerprint and produces an image. Analysis of captured image produces unique binary code. Because no two fingerprints can be the same, no two binary codes can be the same also. Together with relevant information like name, age, gender etc. the captured data provides a system that is extremely hard to reverse engineer.
It should be noted however that the electronic voting system does not count votes. While no system is ever perfect, it goes without saying that implementing this voting system would go a long way in Zimbabwean politics if implemented correctly. Some of the issues to lookout for during the system roll-out would include backup power, anti-hacking systems and voter education among others.