South Africa’s progress towards political stability and democracy is underpinned by its free and fair electoral processes. Technology can play a strong, positive role in election programs and some of the latest developments such as the Coesys Mobile Capture station (a portable biometric citizen registration kit) could play a tremendously supportive role for future elections run in South Africa.
As the country waits to hear the outcome of the Tlokwe Constitutional Court case contesting the standing of our pending local elections, Nkululeko Nxasana, director of government programmes for southern Africa at Gemalto, explains that the country could potentially draw on the experiences of its neighbours up in Africa – especially when it comes to voter registration and the critical phase of voter authentication.
The combination of these technologies plus South Africa’s smart ID cards could go a long way in enhancing free and fair elections.
African countries have made considerable headway in terms of creating stable, transparent governments that better represent the wishes of their citizens. South Africa is no exception to this. “While many of the challenges faced by African countries, including our own, hinge on the realities of poor infrastructure, large distances and remote communities, issues around the authenticity of voter registration have recently taken centre-stage in the Tlokwe case currently being considered by the Constitutional Court,” says Nxasana. “This highlights the need for voters to be able to prove they are who they claim to be, as well as to verify that they do in fact live in the area where they are voting.”
Nxasana notes that in an ideal world, voter registration and authentication would be electronic with voting itself done on digital platforms.
“The key here is biometric identification which is difficult to corrupt and offers a secure way to identify individual voters,” he explains. “This technology and its supporting processes are built on registration solutions that have been developed for identity documents globally. They can however be adapted for individual electoral environments to allow for the registration of new voters, existing voter information (including biometric and other information) to be updated.”
With the 2016 municipal elections expected to be highly contested, Nxasana notes that issues around voter registration are not unique to South Africa – and could potentially be overcome by using a biometric identification system. “Our experience in providing solutions to electoral bodies in Gabon, Benin, Burkina Faso and Algeria among others, has demonstrated just how many of these challenges can be addressed by the latest technologies. In Burkina Faso in 2012 for example, we rolled out 3 500 biometric enrolment stations in 10 weeks, as well as training 3 800 operators. One of the most important elements here was to ensure that the mobile units would synchronise with the central database easily as soon as connectivity was possible.”
In South Africa’s case, the implementation of the Coesys Mobile Voter Terminal could potentially assist in establishing temporary enrolment locations for applicants that live in remote or displaced locations. As such, it would ensure that the “one voter, one vote” principle is adhered to and thereby enhance the credibility of elections as well as provide additional tools to validate election results.
Nxasana says governments that invest in solutions like biometric identification will see a long-term return on this investment as these systems can be used in both national and local elections as they interface easily with other government systems, such as citizen identity databases. “In this way, biometric identification can play an integral part in terms of developing and maintaining the national system of electronic records necessary for future e-government applications.
“While technology is never the whole solution, governments should see it – and use it – as a critical enabler when it comes to elections. The state of the art technology now available can ensure transparency across the voting process, as well as improve the security and authenticity of voters’ data. As such, it allows governments to focus on their mandate of delivery to the people, as opposed to becoming caught up in registration and identity issues,” concludes Nxasana.