Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Technical glitches tarnish Ghanaian presidential elections

Biometric authentication has been implemented in Ghanaian elections. Photo: The Iconoclast News

The adoption of electoral technology by itself is no guarantee that an election will be carried out efficiently. After all, the process must be done by a competent entity that can ensure reliable results. Ghana took a great leap towards the modernization of its elections by implementing biometric authentication at the polling centers, but its poor management and other aspects of the electoral process have practically voided the benefits of the new measure.

On February 15th, 2012, Africa’s Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Gwadwo Afari-Gyan, announced that Ghana’s 2012 elections would feature the use of biometric authentication to identify voters at the polling station. The process used was somewhat rudimentary compared to what countries like Venezuela have experienced with the Integrated Authentication System, but it included fingerprint scans of all ten digits, in this case. A digital picture of the voter was also taken and printed on his or her voting card.

Theoretically, this should have ensured a fair exercise of democracy, and even though it did stop some attempts of double registration in different districts, the lack of public order entailed certain difficulties. Two verification machines were stolen in the city of Tamale, and ‘macho men’ —heavy, muscular individuals used by political parties to disrupt elections— set ballot papers, coalition sheets and verification machines on fire in Ablekuma. Besides, the Ghanaian Electoral Commission (EC) was accused of hiring an Israeli company to transmit election results. Dr. Afari-Gyan assured the public that all scrutiny and transmission processes are being carried out exclusively by members of the EC. His intervention inadvertently revealed another faulty aspect of Ghanaian elections: in spite of the implementation of biometric authentication, voting in Ghana is still being done manually, and results from each polling place are transmitted via fax to the central authorities. Unsurprisingly, numerous technical glitches led to long delays and extensions in the electoral event.

As of December 9, no definite winner had been declared yet. This is because technical snags in the biometric data verification equipment were so widespread that they hindered the whole democratic process, proving how improvisation can do more harm than good.

Ghana took a sensible step toward the improvement of its elections, but good intentions are not enough. The African country needs to rethink the way it protects its democracy, as electoral technology needs to be provided by a serious provider that can guarantee that its technological equipment will not become an obstacle to suffrage. The government also needs to double its efforts to warrant security and order at all electoral events.