Biometric systems bringing voting clarity to Africa

8 February 2016
By Jade Fell
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Biometric systems identify individuals through scans of unique features, such as fingerprints or irises

Biometric systems identify individuals through scans of unique features, such as fingerprints or irises

Uganda has joined the list of many African nations making the move towards a biometric standard of voting, in a bid to bring greater transparency to the election process.

With elections due to take place on 18th February, the Electoral Commission of Uganda has partnered up with electronic voting technology company Smartmatic to introduce biometric voter authentication systems that validate voter identity prior to ballot casting.

“The deployment of the biometric verification mechanism at all polling stations across the country will significantly boost the credibility of the presidential, legislative and local elections,” says Jotham Taremwa Spokesperson for the Uganda Electoral Commission.

As part of the moves, 30,500 biometric devices capable of scanning voters' fingerprints will be deployed across 30,000 polling stations, with a central information system provided by Smartmatic to store and manage biometric data on all registered voters. This will be synchronized with Uganda’s National ID database.

Project management and election training is also being provided to poll workers and election officials.

“With just ten days to go until the elections, we are proud to be helping Uganda take this step forward,” said Dr. Khodr Akil, Smartmatic’s Sales Vice President for Africa.

As biometric technology becomes more and more common, Uganda is just one of many nations using biometric means to combat one of the most prevalent forms of election fraud – voter impersonation.

“Voter identity management is a critical task in any election. By validating the identity of each voter via biometrics with accuracy and speed, we will ensure the principle of ‘one voter – one vote’ in Uganda,” said Mr. Sam Rwakoojo, Secretary of the Uganda Electoral Commission.

The last few years has seen a significant increase in the uptake of biometric voting across many African nations, particularly those with a history of election-day violence and accusations of electoral fraud and vote rigging.

Last month the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) announced that they were making plans to implementing a biometric voters’ roll in Zimbabwe, as part of its reforms ahead of the 2018 general elections. While plans are still in the early stages, a spokesperson for ZEC has commented that the biometric system will scan for either fingerprints or the iris, such as those systems already in place in Kenya and Ghana.

In 2012, the Kenyan Government announced that the country would be switching over to a biometric standard of voting in a bit to avoid the unrest experienced in previous elections. As part of the new biometric procedure voting was carried out using an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) with the capacity to hold biometric records of 20 million voters.

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