June 8, 2013
We are very strong advocates of electronic voting (e-voting
) systems. Unfortunately a number of recent attempts at the use of ICT in elections have not been very successful. However, this should not dissuade Africans from pursuing the technology since every revolutionary new technology is always bound to be affected by teething problems.
When Kenya held her last general election, we were excited at their attempt to relay the results of the election electronically. We hoped that the successful use of electronic voting systems in Kenya would be emulated throughout Africa and improve the transparency of most elections. In particular, I was hoping that a Kenyan success would prompt Zimbabweans to adopt some form of e-voting, leading to a more transparent election outcome. We pinned our hopes on Kenya pioneering this revolution in the same way they pioneered mobile money transfer or M-PESA technology.
Kenya’s Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had to switch to a manual vote tallying after defects in the system slowed the real-time transmission of results to voters. The failure occurred in two parts; the voter identification kits used to verify the identity of voters did not work in many parts of the country while the electronic transmission system meant to relay the results of the polls from the constituencies in real-time crashed.
More recently, France’s UMP party attempted to go many steps further in electronic voting by allowing voters to vote online. In order to vote in the primary and select a candidate, voters paid s €3 with their credit card, and give their names, addresses and other information.
But, according to Metronews, it was easy to compromise the security of the e-voting system and vote several times using different names. One journalist from Metronews managed to vote five times, paying with the same credit card and using different names, including the name of former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
My worry is that Africans will invoke their “where has it been done successfully” syndrome and abandon any attempts to migrate to e-voting systems. Like any revolutionary new technology, e-voting is bound to be affected by teething problems. As the saying goes, “it is not errors that we guard against, but persistence in error”. Africans should use the knowledge of the problems that have been encountered in Africa and elsewhere in the world to develop accurate e-voting systems.
There is no need for Africa to be the follower in everything. Transparent elections are key to our struggling democracies and if it means being the first to widely adapt e-voting, we have to do it even if nobody else has done it successfully.