Conference Says Technology Can Ensure Sanctity Of The Ballot

Conference Says Technology Can Ensure Sanctity Of The Ballot

The conference of Election Management Bodies (EBMs) in the West and Southern Africa regions says that the use of technology can increase public confidence in the electoral process and further protect the sanctity and integrity of the ballot. They also contend that it has the advantage of facilitating the process of a seamless election. Speaking

The conference of Election Management Bodies (EBMs) in the West and Southern Africa regions says that the use of technology can increase public confidence in the electoral process and further protect the sanctity and integrity of the ballot. They also contend that it has the advantage of facilitating the process of a seamless election.

Speaking at the opening of a three-day International Conference on Opportunities And Challenges In the Use Of Technology In Elections: Lessons From West And Southern Africa in Abuja, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) says “The deployment of technology has also empowered the citizens, more than ever before, to organise, mobilise and protect the mandates using various social media platforms to track result transmission and undertake Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT).

Yakubu who’s also president ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONET) reveals that EBMs both in the sub-region and beyond have deployed technology in one way or the other “to improve on the process, administration and outcomes of elections ranging from training and capacity building for electoral officers and the promotion of inclusivity in the electoral process” which has seen the galvanisation of youth, women, People Living With Disabilities (PWDs), Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Diaspora voters.

Technology has also been used to drive the process of “biometric registration of voters, delineation of electoral constituencies, geo-referencing of existing as well as the creation of new polling units, establishment of robust electronic data bases, accreditation of voters during elections, actual voting and the speedy and more accurate collation/transmission of results”.

While reflecting on the use of technology as a double edge sword, the INEC Chairman says that “Given the deficit of infrastructure and expertise in many countries in our sub-regions and the regularity with which elections are conducted, concerns have been raised about cost, choice and effectiveness of technology”.

“Furthermore, given the high stakes involved in conducting elections in developing countries, Electoral commissions must understandably be worried about the twin issues of communication and security, especially in situations where data reside with, and is indirectly transmitted to the tallying centres through offshore vendors rather than exclusively controlled within national boundaries by the election Management Bodies”.

“In addition, we have to contend with the disturbing but rapidly increasing incidence of election meddling through the deployment of counter-technology on a global scale by state and non-state actors”, he says.

Outlining the gains of technology which has enhanced electoral processes such as voter registration, biometrics, voter identification, result processing, and electronic voting, Chairperson, Electoral Commission of Namibia, Mrs Adv NotembaTjipueja, whose country was the first to use electronic voting machine in Africa shares their success story. They include: Automatic and error free voting, replacement of the ballot paper and ballot box and the elimination of spoilt ballots. In 2004, the total number of spoilt ballot papers amounted to about 12,000 which was equivalent to one seat in the country’s National Assembly. Other achievements include minimizing of human error, speeding of voting process, security of votes on control unit and maintaining the secrecy of the ballot.

“While we all agree that as EMBs, we cannot ignore technology”, Tjipueja, also Chairperson of the Electoral Commission Forum of Southern Africa Development Commission (ECF-SADC), argues that “the cost associated with the management of elections is one of the challenges for governments and all EMBs, the need for cost saving measures by all EMBs to curb the ever increasing cost of elections, the need to carefully manage the use of ICT and the need to sustain the integrity of elections”.

Also speaking at the event, President, European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), Ms Monica Frassoni says “Technology is an integral part of our societies. It drives development and facilitates one of the most distinct trends of our times, namely globalisation and the interconnectedness of people. Technology and ICTs have enabled our societies to evolve and stay connected both to each other and to all parts of the world” adding that “The introduction of new technology is almost always met with skepticism and some resistance”.

“We have all experienced the break-through and the facilitation that technology has done for us in our every-day life, but most likely also the downsides of when it has failed us and caused inconveniences”.

Frassoni is of the view that “The introduction of technology and ICTs in electoral and democratic processes are therefore not a given. There are pro and cons of using technical aids, but overall, it is meant to deliver higher precision and accuracy, make each operation traceable and deliver higher reliability, meaning, that the same operation could be undertaken by someone else and it would generate the exact same result. Hence, ICTs are meant to mitigate to a certain extent the human error”.

She says, that “Technology and ICTs in elections has been seen both as a facilitator and a spoiler to the process. This teaches us that the introduction of technological aids is contested”. Let us however remember that technology and ICTs are not always “high-tech” and complex. Using an excel sheet to tabulate election results counts as an ICT aid, but so does using biometric voter registration kits or dedicated satellite transmission of results”.

“What ICTs has in common, not only when used in electoral processes but in our societies at large, are the possibilities to both facilitate our lives but also create confusion. The overall perception of the quality of the electoral process plays in when it comes to how the introduction of technology and ICTs are being received. The perception of an impartial and competent electoral management body is a precondition for technology to be perceived as an aid to the perfection of the electoral process”

The European Union Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Mr Ketil Karlsten who recalls how President Muhammed Buhari adduced his victory to “God and technology” says that technology has strengthened the democratic process. “The alternative to the democratic path is not desirable”, he quips. “We are building on the success of our project in Nigeria. This is our crown jewel to promote democracy here. But we support based on the peculiarities of specific countries”, urging all key stakeholders in the cause of promotion of democracy not to lower their guards.

Sponsored by ECES under the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (SDGN) Project, the conference is a result of collaboration between INEC, ECONEC and the ECF-SADC with delegates drawn from 30 countries in the West and Southern African regions. According to the INEC chairman, the 30 countries in the West and Southern African regions with an estimated 633 million people, represent 52% of the total population of the African continent.

Present at the event are Chairpersons of Electoral Commissions in the 30 countries, INEC Commissioners, Resident Electoral Commissioners, Executive Director of ECES, Fabio Barglacchi and participants from partner organisations implementing the EU-SDGN project amongst others.

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