Namibia is in the news these days, not only because it will be opening its polling stations on November 28th to renew its Presidency and Legislative Power, but because half of its 2.3 million voters will be Africa’s pioneers in e-voting.
Although this election could have marked the beginning of the renovation of the electoral system for a country that carries a long history of electoral malpractice and fraud allegations since its independence in 1990, the truth is that Namibia’s Electoral Commission has decided to do business with India, ignoring the needs of its voters.
Last August, the electoral authorities made official the adoption of the e-voting system used in India. To this end, they decided to buy voting machines this nation manufactures. In principle, the step taken by Namibia did not represent any concern, but as the process advanced it was revealed that the devices to be used are rather outdated, equipped with obsolete technology that could jeopardize the electoral event and its results.
Besides technical issues, according to leaked information the Electoral Commission also closed a $20-million deal for the acquisition of the machines—that is, several thousand dollars each. This placed the purchase under suspicion, as India has declared to the world that its e-voting devices are very accessible due to their low cost (no more than $400), but it sold them to Namibia as if they were next-generation.
India’s automated model is based on the use of a machine or electronic board showing a list of candidates lined up next to a sort of switches at the sides. Voters select their preferred candidates with the buttons and register their vote. The devices are manufactured by two Indian companies, Electronic Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) and Bharat Electronics Limited. The need to update the Indian machines became evident during the April-March elections this year. However, the authorities have not fulfilled their promise of modernizing their system to strengthen some stages of the process, improving the emission of results (audits) and incorporating a vote receipt printed on paper to protect the people’s intent.
Namibia will soon begin to use e-voting, but once again, political interests have been placed above the benefit of the citizens. Nevertheless, the presence of international observers could mean that the country might have the possibility of rectifying for subsequent elections, as the recommendations that will be given at the end of the election could sound the alarms about the suspicious purchase.
Facing the future, action from the international community, political activists, parties, and the citizens, will be vital not only for the country to fix its mistakes, but to avoid that other African nations follow its steps. Namibia opted for the easy road, even though in the world there are e-voting models that are modern and safe.