Nigeria stumbles in biometrics implementation


Fingerprint scanners failed, prolonging Nigerian elections.

The decision to automate some of the phases of an electoral process does not allow for improvisation or shortcuts. However, there are nations that fail in the adoption of technology because of their eagerness to hasten the modernization of their systems or due to their privileging interests different from those of the citizens and their political rights. A correct implementation, though, would undoubtedly bring enormous benefits.

This failure is the situation that Nigeria is currently facing. Last year, a process of biometric identification—the capture of automatic fingerprint and facial imagery—began in order to eliminate electoral crimes such as identity theft and double voting. However, during the March 28 elections, technical issues delayed the process, forcing an extension of the electoral event.

According to reports from the media, the biometric identification system adopted by Nigeria showed poor performance, as a general problem appeared in the scanners bought by the National Independent Electoral Commission for the automatic verification of voter identity. This intensified the tension that political violence has been generating in the country.

The process dynamics contemplated that each citizen, provided with a device known as the Permanent Voter Card (PVC), which stored their biometric information, should validate this document by verifying their fingerprint. However, instead of fulfilling this task in seconds, as originally planned, the machines took an average 15 minutes per voter, forcing the elections to last two days.

The strong congestion at the polling centers was acknowledged by president Goodluck Jonathan, who was manually registered for voting after three failed attempts to validate his voter card. The president encouraged citizens to “bear with” the situation.

The faults in Nigeria could have been avoided by establishing a technology implementation schedule that included tests in order to detect and correct problems, and also by ensuring a training process for technicians and voters, as has been the case in some nations that are now setting an example in electoral biometric identification: Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela.

After the Nigerian elections, the process leaves a lesson to be learned: although the nation advanced by modernizing its electoral register, its implementation of biometric technology was flawed. Therefore, it is still facing the obligation to optimize its systems in order to provide better guarantees to a country strongly afflicted by political problems.

Nigeria takes a winning bet on biometric identification


Nigeria will use a new biometric electoral register Photo:

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.

The electoral gap between Brazil and Uruguay


Brazil uses an electronic ballot box featuring a numeric keypad and a biometric identification device.

Last October 26th, Brazil and Uruguay carried out different electoral events. Both nations held presidential elections uneventfully. However, upon evaluation of the performance of their electoral systems, substantial differences arise: while Brazilians got fast official results leveraged by e-voting, Uruguayans, stuck to manual suffrage, had to settle with a slow tallying and unofficial results.

Describing how the electoral process is closed in Brazil would be enough to illustrate the electoral gap between these two South American countries. As in other regions with e-voting, at the end of the election, tallying and aggregation are carried out automatically, and the transmission of results is done through wired, wireless, or satellite networks, all of which arrives at the results in short times.

During the electoral runoff—where Ms. Dilma Rousseff was re-elected—the electronic voting system made it possible to count more than 140 million votes in barely three hours, where 105,476,578 votes were for the presidency and 35,136,837 votes were for 15 state governments. Besides, since the law authorizes to disclose results to the citizens practically in real time, that is, soon after the polling stations are closed and counting starts, the world was able to witness the progress of aggregation at the website of the High Electoral Court. Moreover, the guarantee offered by the automated counting prevented the narrow gap between the candidates (3.2%) from generating doubts or friction.

That same day was very different for Uruguay. Although the electoral event concluded peacefully, voters were unable to get official information at the end of the election, as the manual system used did not have the capacity to offer results on Election Day. The electoral dynamics in the country include the fact that polling firms are the ones delivering the first trends, while the Electoral Court offers a primary count the day after the election, which could have errors. It’s only six to seven days later that the official data from the count is released.

During this presidential election, the country had to wait until November 1st —six days after voting— in order to get to know the definitive results. This situation will repeat itself next November 30th, at the presidential runoff.

Having seen the tremendous difference between Brazil and Uruguay, the reason that speed is one of the most praised benefits of automated elections is the fact that manual voting makes it difficult to yield timely results. This has generated somber episodes, even tragedies, due to the association between the delay in the count and delivery of results with electoral fraud and manipulation.

Thus, with e-voting, time in the electoral process becomes relevant, not because of how long the electoral event might take, but because system automation, aside from making voting easier and speedier, ensures that suffrage yields results adjusted to the citizens’ intent, and delivers them timely, guarantees that are impossible to match with manual voting.