elections, fingerprint, fraud, Ghana, ID, vote, voter

Without Biometric Voter Verification, Ghana May Spend Much to Accomplish Little

Biometric verification in December polls will be suicidal – Ephson (Modern Ghana)

Ben Ephson served the warning on Accra-based Radio Gold’s Power Drive morning show on Wednesday and according to him, voter verification would not be a panacea to vote rigging or electoral fraud in the December 7 polls.

He added that what will be useful is vigilance from all stakeholders to make the electoral process free and fair. Ben Ephson further added that the best the biometric voters register could do would be to prevent multiple voting. It would however not be able to stop people from altering figures generated from the polls.

“Panacea” has nothing to do with it. Without verification, the biometric enrollment exercise undertaken in Ghana can only tell you how many bad credentials (that can still become a vote) have been issued by legitimate authorities.

Without biometric verification, the whole enrollment exercise turns on the ID document. A document-dependent electoral system can be successful if three conditions are met: The process whereby legitimate documents are issued is very rigorous; The document is extremely difficult to counterfeit; And there is no significant corruption of the ballot-stuffing or ballot destroying variety.

Rigor in the document creation would include such measures as a real-time biometric query against the database of registered voters before issuing a new registration card in order to prevent duplicate registrations. Making a document difficult to forge involves high tech printing techniques or embedded biometrics for later verification. The corruption part is a function of culture and institutional controls.

Are these three conditions satisfied in Ghana? No; No & I don’t know.
♦ No, there is no real-time check to prevent issuing multiple cards to the same individual
♦ No, the printer used to create the card is a very ordinary desk-top printer
♦ I don’t know much about Ghana’s cultural and institutional ability to resist corruption but judging by published editorials, at least some people are very worried about potential shenanigans.

Avoiding over-reliance on the physical ID document is perhaps the greatest benefit of using biometrics in elections. If there is no biometric voter verification, the only voting requirement is to have a more-or-less convincing registration card with a more-or-less convincing photo on it.

Biometric verification by making the finger rather than the paper the overriding criterion for receiving a blank ballot, confers two tremendous advantages. Multiple voting can be made extremely difficult even for people who have multiple government issued registration cards. Second, ballot stuffing can be curbed because an audit of the total number of votes recorded can be compared to the number of fingerprints verified on election day as legitimate voters.

By creating the a perception that the electoral apparatus is more effective than it really is, implementing a biometric voter enrollment system without biometric voter verification may even lead to more electoral uncertainty than the system being replaced.

A well-thought-out biometric voting system can reduce fraudulent voting to very low levels but it’s also possible to spend a lot of money on a leaky system that involves biometrics without accomplishing much in the way improving the integrity of the vote. There is reason to fear that the Ghanain system more closely resembles the latter than the former.

UPDATE:
Ghana has since made statements indicating a desire to biometrically verify voters’ identities on election day.

UPDATE II:
Ghana opts for biometric voter verification

UPDATE III:
Verification hardware to be tested

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