The Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC), Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan on Thursday May 30, 2013, told the Supreme Court in the election petition trial that there were close to 80, 000 voters who were designated as ‘Face-Only’ (FO) voters because the biometric registration machines failed to capture their finger prints during the registration exercise.
Explaining himself further in Court on Thursday, at the start of his evidence-in-chief for the second respondent, Dr. Afari Gyan said among those classified as FO voters were eligible voters who had suffered “permanent trauma” and “temporary trauma”.
He explained permanent trauma to mean voters who had no fingers at all for which reason their fingerprints could not have been captured by the biometric verification machine.
Temporary trauma sufferers, according to Dr. Afari-Gyan, were those who had fingers alright, but nonetheless did not have fingerprints to have been captured by the machine.
He said those two categories of voters were captured in the register as people who could only be identified by their faces before voting since their fingerprints could not be captured by the biometric verification equipment.
Any identification system has to plan for exceptions. This is true whether the ID measure in place is a metal key, an ID card, a PIN, a fingerprint or any combination of ID technologies.
A Ghana Web article on exception planning published in early 2012 is here, so the subject of unverifiable biometrics isn’t a surprise.
Instead, let’s deal with the numbers.
According to the article quoted above 80,000 (and that seems to be an upper bound rather than a firm total) voters were given blank ballots without fingerprint ID verification. Some portion of that number would have been definitively established during the voter registration process as people missing hands and fingers as they completed the voter registration process.
The image below (also from Ghana Web) shows candidates, percentage of votes received, and. more importantly for our purposes, raw vote total:
The combined number of votes in parentheses below each candidate’s name comes to 10,995,262. Eighty thousand votes represents 0.73% of the almost eleven million votes cast. The margin of victory between the top two vote-getters was 325,863 votes and they were separated by 2.96% of the total vote.
As far as elections go, having the margin of error less than the margin of victory is a good thing. In this case 0.73% < 2.96% means that the 80,000 unverified votes could not have affected who received the most votes.
Moreover, no one yet asserts that votes cast without fingerprint biometric verification could have favored any one candidate either because there was a systematic attempt to circumvent the biometric verification for fraudulent purposes or because of a geographic disparity in the 80,000 (maximum) exceptions that might have favored one candidate over another.
The bigger story appears to be:
99.27% of the votes in the recent election were cast by biometrically verified legitimate voters.
The last time there was a presidential election, that number was zero and given increased familiarity with the technology and expected improvements in both biometric hardware and software, expect that 99.27% number to increase for the next election.
Ghana, and other countries contemplating fully biometric elections should be heartened by these results.