Nigeria takes a winning bet on biometric identification


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Nigeria will use a new biometric electoral register Photo:http://www.washingtonpost.com

Africa has had to overcome enormous social, economic, and political difficulties to be able to stand before the world as a region where citizens’ rights are respected. Although this is an ongoing task—Africa comprises 54 countries— there are nations such as Nigeria, which are working to strengthen democracy by trying to improve the quality of their elections.

One of the resources employed by Nigerians in order to make electoral processes transparent is the shielding of an element that is key to every election: the electoral register. The formula employed is based on biometric technology, which makes it possible to automatically verify the identity of a voter by capturing a physical feature, such as the face or a fingerprint.

In order to implement this, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) has created what is known as the Permanent Voter Card, so that the 68,833,476 citizens called to vote on March 28 for president, 360 deputies and 109 senators, as well as for governors and state legislators, can be sure that their identities will not be stolen, and that there won’t be double votes.

According to the NIEC, each Nigerian voter carrying the card that stores biometric information from fingerprints and face imagery will be able to exert their right to vote once this document is scanned by a reader and their fingerprint is captured to verify their identity, comparing the data saved in the card with those collected at the moment of voting.

Following the example from other nations that use biometric identification (like Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil), the use of this technology in Africa has been on the rise, and Nigeria will join the twenty countries in the continent that have carried out elections using a biometric electoral register.

The expansion of this tool is due to the fact that identity theft has altered electoral results in several nations, eroding the citizens’ trust in the system, and forcing authorities to seek the best practices to safeguard suffrage.

Nigeria has been facing threats from political violence during the last few weeks. However, electoral technology—biometrics, in this case—can help the country to fulfill its fourth general elections since gaining its independence in 1999, with no setbacks. With the use of biometrics, the country has made a winning bet.

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Paper vote receipts: Making the vote verifiable


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Some DRE machine models have the capacity to print a vote receipt on paper automatically.

In their search for an e-voting model that guarantees accuracy, ease in ballot casting, and verifiability, countries are increasingly opting for e-voting solutions that include printing a vote receipt. This type of receipt is called a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

The main attraction of VVPAT systems is the fact that they enable voters to check in real time that the vote registered, which is the one printed by the machine, matches the choices they just inputted. In addition to enabling this verification, physically printing each vote generates a paper trail that opens the possibility to manually count and compare paper votes totals with the automated counts reflected on the minutes.

Due to the electoral guarantee involving the use of VVPAT, some countries now demand it with e-voting solutions, such as Brazil and India. Although the first of the two is an automation pioneer, its machines do not have printers that replicate digital votes on paper. For this reason, several initiatives have arisen to renew the country’s equipment so as to give way to paper trails for votes.

On the other hand, although India has become a benchmark in the successful implementation of voting machines, it has not yet fulfilled its promise to modernize its system by implementing paper trail printing in order to shield the people’s intent. However, the Supreme Court has already issued a ruling demanding its use.

Venezuela is a pioneer in the use of VVPAT in the region. The mark this practice leaves was reflected on a study conducted by Peru’s National Office for Electoral Processes (Onpe), which shows how the DRE model is progressing firmly compared to other e-voting models. It also shows how paper trails are gaining ground both in countries where electoral automation is used and countries where its implementation is still under study, such as Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

The way e-voting has found a way to defeat suspicion and fear has been shielding all the phases of the process. VVPAT is a guarantee for expansion.

El Salvador faces an electoral abyss


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Salvadorans have been left with no electoral results.

El Salvador went to the polls on March 1st in order to renew legislative and municipal authorities. Although the electoral event proceeded normally, the crucial stage of vote tallying became a real nightmare, as several days have passed since the elections took place and there are still no official results. The country is facing an electoral abyss.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) had to break its promise of releasing “preliminary results” a few hours after closing the polling places, as the company hired to design the software for releasing results, Soluciones Aplicativas (Saplic), was unable to fulfill its duty. This has deprived the country of finishing anelection neatly, without jeopardizing its institutional and democratic stability.

The TSE announced that it will only be able to release the final official election results in two more weeks, as technical faults that had been previously detected but not fixed by the technology provider made it impossible for the software to “show the minutes” containing the allocation of votes by parties, and to enable their transmission for the preliminary count.

The faulty performance of the company led the TSE president, Julio Olivo to denounce deliberate irregularities: “I can safely say that there was sabotage, because I have evidence for this,” he declared before the Public Prosecutor.
While the authorities unravel what happened, there is a thesis circulating that the source of all evil in this election in El Salvador was the tender process in which Saplic was awarded the contract to develop the program for releasing electoral results.

Although other companies bid for this tender, having well-known experience in electoral technology, which in the past have automated different electoral stages, or which even guaranteed the success of 100% automated elections in various countries, a local company “with no other guarantee about its experience and performance record than the word of technical advisors” was chosen. Local media outlets point out that TSE magistrates acknowledged that they chose Saplic “in good faith.” Since the magistrates had neither educational background nor any experience in computing, they followed recommendations from the specialists they consulted.

The TSE’s former president, Eugenio Chicas, also criticized the company and the electoral body. He stated that choosing Saplic was an irresponsible decision, as it was not based on technical criteria.

In light of the progress of technology, and even of e-voting best practices, what has happened in El Salvador is unacceptable and must be amended. Risking political stability of a country by overlooking vital elements in a tender process and those inherent to the adoption of automated systems can only leave the people’s intent adrift and harm trust in the institutions.