Diaz: Why future elections may be fully on digital systems

The digital voting machines count accurately and quickly.

In Summary

•The majority of the European Union countries extract data from the population registers in order to generate the electoral roll.

• In economies where electoral rolls are created from scratch, digital technology can also be of much value.

An IEBC official uses the electronic KIEMS kit during voting on August 8, 2017
KIEMS KITS: An IEBC official uses the electronic KIEMS kit during voting on August 8, 2017
Image: FILE

Digital technology offers greater efficiency in many spheres of life, and elections are no exception.

Online databases significantly facilitate the prospects of creating and managing up-to-date and accurate electoral rolls.

In the least developed economies, whose citizens usually lack sufficient and reliable identity documents, biometric technology can assist in identifying the voters, therefore curbing fraud in the form of multiple voting.

Nonetheless, for some aspects of election management, the digitalization of the electoral process is more controversial.

The digital voting machines count accurately and quickly.

First employed in America, the method has spread to many parts of Asian and Latin American countries.

However, the intangible nature of the digital processes makes detecting tampering more hectic; thus, most countries in Europe and Africa are sticking to conventional paper ballots.

Even more controversial is the idea of fully adopting internet voting.

Conversely, allowing the citizens of a country the convenience of casting their vote online without the need to visit a polling station could assist in reversing a worrying decline in voter turnout across the globe.

Therefore, adopting a digital voting system is the way to go to prevent instances of irregularities and discrepancies during voting.

In 2017, Kenya made history following the annulment of her elections after the Supreme Court ruling.

Kenya joined an exclusive club of only four countries in the world to ever annul the presidential elections.

The historic ruling delivered by the then Chief Justice of Kenya, David Maraga, placed Kenya as the first country in Africa to ever invalidate the presidential election results.

Only Austria, Maldives and Ukraine have been through this route before, with Kenya being the most recent.

The grounds for annulling the elections in the four countries were irregularities, rigging claims, and lack of transparency in the electoral process, among others.

The use of digital voting systems cannot come fast enough to cure the inconsistencies in the voting process and the final tally of results to present free, fair and credible elections.

The voters are at liberty to choose the preferred leaders and the voting process must not be infiltrated by cyber experts and egocentric kingmakers who force the minority decision on the electorates.

A voter in Armenia in Asia, Oregon in the USA, Romania in Eastern Europe, Brazil in South America and Ichaweri in Kenya, all deserve free, fair and credible elections.

Only then will their votes count.

Compared to paper-based voting, the digital voting system provides various benefits at all stages of voting, from the onset of voter registration to counting ballots.

Voter registration

Voter registration plays a critical role during elections.

Accurate voter registers are essential to allowing all eligible individuals to exercise their rights to vote and discard attempts of fraud.

Digital technology facilitates the process of creation of registers.

The majority of the European Union countries extract data from the population registers in order to generate the electoral roll.

In economies where electoral rolls are created from scratch, digital technology can also be of much value.

For example, the voters in a country like Australia register through an online platform, while in Tanzania, there is a fill-out machine which is a readable paper form that is fed into the scanner.

The difficulty of cross-checking and updating paper-based electoral rolls amplifies the risk of including diseased voters or multiple records of the same person, leading to chances of electoral fraud.

By contrast, digital registers are usually more manageable.

Voter identity verification

On Election Day, the election workers are required to check the identity of the voters against the electoral roll.

This becomes easier when the polling stations have access to up-to-date and accurate verifiable information on an online platform, used in Mongolia, Norway and other countries.

In most African countries, the lack of efficient and reliable identity documents has become problematic to both voter registration and electoral officials.

Liberia, DRC and Guinea are among the many countries that have dealt with the issue by providing voters with a special card upon registration, which they can use to identify themselves at a polling station.

In Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, voter identification involves fingerprints scanned at the polling station to check the voter identity.

Biometric identification offers a discreet and secure means of curbing multiple voting on Election Day.

Vote casting

Illiteracy enhances the invalid vote’s frequency, since when voters read the ballot papers on how to mark them.

For instance, in India where about 31 percent of adults are not literate, a huge chunk of the ballots were discarded as a result of mistakes like not marking the ballot in the ideal place or in more than one place.

In several elections, the total number of discarded votes has been higher than the margin of victory, leading to doubt on the validity of the result.

The use of electronic voting machines introduced in 2003 has prevented the problem.

Electronic voting systems are therefore efficient and more reliable.

To increase its efficiency and credibility, the digital systems can include safeguards to prevent instances of fraud such as ballot box stuffing, a common practice in some parts of India, especially the remote regions, where political or criminals take control of the polling stations to stuff ballots to favour certain candidates.

The voting machines, which have been programmed to record a given number of votes per minute, have prevented such practices, since stuffing takes a longer time, even in cases where the machines fall into the wrong hands.

Electronic voting machines are also usually more accessible for disabled voters.

In America, visually impaired voters are able to use an audio interface, while individuals with paralyzed limbs can choose their preferred candidates from the screen by using head movements.

Vote counting

The digital voting system allows faster vote counting. In India, a country with a high population, vote counting takes a long time.

Introducing the use of biometrics prevents these delays because the votes can be counted and transmitted faster.

It also minimizes the scope of human errors and it also saves a country from using a lot of money during the election process by recruiting fewer poll workers.

Results transmission and tabulation process

After casting the votes by the electorates, the results are usually sent to the central polling office for aggregation for the purpose of giving the total results.

With the use of paper-based processes, collecting and calculating results from many polling stations in the whole country is usually the slowest part of the voting process.

However, with the use of digital technology, the results can be electronically transmitted and aggregated by the computer, enabling preliminary results to be announced quickly.

Economies across the world, especially African countries, must therefore adopt the digital voting system because it cures the major concerns during elections such as verifiability of the electoral process, electoral fraud, reliability and trust of the electoral process.

With a 100 percent transition in digital voting, the counties will experience a free, fair and verifiable election and electoral fraud will be a thing of the past.

Kenya just concluded the electioneering period where digital played a major role in all elections conducted and we congratulate President-elect William Ruto and all other elected leaders in various capacities.

Kenyans have confidence in the new administration – let’s team up with all Kenyans, and the private sector and make our country greater and a positive vibrant economy.


Chris DiazBusiness leader and Brand Africa Trustee

Twitter: DiazChrisAfrica

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