Biometrics protect voting


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Brazil has an electronic ballot box with a number keyboard and a biometric identification device.

Double voting and identity theft are two of the electoral frauds that often smear elections in Latin American countries. However, these regrettable practices are not exclusive of our region. In Europe, they were put under the spotlight after the European Union’s legislative elections on May 25th, when a journalist admitted to having voted on two occasions, as he had dual citizenship and could vote both in Germany and Italy.

The illegal action of assuming another voter’s identity or voting multiple times has altered electoral results in many countries, decreasing citizens’ trust in the system and forcing authorities to look for best practices to safeguard suffrage. That’s why, biometric identification—fingerprint scanning for identity verification—began to be adopted in the electoral industry after its ample use in the industrial and business world (for controlling access of people, for example).

Nowadays, many countries can serve as an example for the European Union and the nations with no tools to authenticate their voters’ identity. Technology expert companies have designed voting devices that enable the possibility of fulfilling the “one vote, one voter” premise.

Two cases worth highlighting correspond to Brazil and Venezuela, which are leaders in the use of electoral technology in Latin America, as they have e-voting models that incorporate biometric identification. Brazil uses machines with number keyboards to register voters’ fingerprints before voting, while Venezuelans have what they call an Integrated Authentication System (SAI) —a mechanism with fingerprint scanners (biometric identification devices) that enables the machine to be unlocked only after each voter’s biometric authentication.

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The new SAES machines Venezuela uses include a biometric identification device. Photo: AVN

Colombia, which has been trying to automate its elections for many years, has begun the process of technology adoption with a biometric system consisting of devices capable of capturing each voter’s fingerprint (before voting) in order to compare it with those stored by the electoral system. The Registrar’s Office has stated that this technology has proven effective deterring identity theft.

A clear demonstration of the effectiveness of this mechanism was offered recently by the Carter Center, which revealed the results of an audit to Venezuela’s SAI for the 2013 presidential elections. The report indicates that the biometric system used “has the capacity to identify multiple voting or usurped votes post hoc (…) and the incidence of these was relatively low,” as only 247 cases were detected out of 15 million ballots cast.

Going back to the EU, where thousands of people have dual citizenship, with two passports that enable them to vote in two countries during a single process, biometric identification can be adapted to guarantee elections free of identity fraud. Through the use of technology, the EU can make it clear that by protecting each voter’s identity, it is protecting voting itself.

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