Friday, August 31, 2012

Benefits of electronic poll books

SAI will eliminate any possibility of double voting or that third parties
might vote by stealing the identity of registered voters (Image Smartmatic)
As technology continues to improve our overall life quality by automating processes related to all aspects of our lives, one specific development is consistently becoming more relevant and essential to perform even the simplest task: biometric authentication. From border security, to banking, and even more recently, voting, biometrics are being successfully applied to different industries. In the electoral arena, which is the main interest of this blog, biometrics is also making possible some ground-breaking transformations.

We've all heard numerous times the old adagio: every vote counts. Well, that can only be asserted when authorities succeed in ensuring that every citizen who wants to express his opinion casts a vote, and that every cast vote is properly accounted for.

The managing of poll books is an area where Biometrics is starting to play a key role. Normally, and in order be given access to cast a vote, voters go through a process of authentication, which involves handing an ID to the poll station worker so they can confirm that the person in the polling station is in fact eligible to cast a vote in that precinct. During this process, and for decades, all sort of irregularities such as double voting and impersonation have occurred. Biometrics are making it impossible for fraudsters to actually impersonate another voter and in some cases, it is avoiding unscrupulous voters to cast more votes than allowed.

A solution to eradicate the problems regarding voter authentication is being implemented in Venezuela. Developed by Smartmatic, the Integrated Authentication System (SAI for its acronym in Spanish) uses the voters' biometric authentication (through fingerprint scanning) to verify the identity of the voter and allow him or her to cast their vote. The device receives each voter's ID number and fingerprint, and validates this data against the electoral roll. Only a valid identity from someone who has not previously voted, and is in fact eligible to vote, will activate the voting machine. This prevents identity theft and double voting, and guarantees the One Elector = One Vote principle. The system is a step forward from the automated electoral rolls being implemented in countries like Ghana and Cameroon.

Governments have an enormous responsibility towards their citizens and the overall democratic system when it comes to election administration. They must offer effective tools and technologies to ensure maximum levels of transparency and efficiency. Given the latest developments, biometric authentication is the next logical step to follow when election integrity is at stake. A manual poll book simply does not offer the levels of security and reliability that elections need. The example Venezuela is setting by using technologies like SAI, needs to be followed as it will shield the right to vote of the Venezuelan electorate.