Electronic Voting Machines: Namibia’s opposition wants to stick to traditional voting

 

Windhoek – Namibia’s opposition political parties have urged the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) to consult with all stakeholders regarding the use of Electronic Voting Machines in the upcoming general elections, arguing that doing so will build confidence in the voting devices.

As the country marches towards the November 28 Presidential and National Assembly elections, the issue of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) remains a hot topic, with some opposition parties questioning the reliability of the machines without a voter-verified paper audit trail while some are imploring the ECN to stick to the traditional method of voting that has been in practice since independence.

They contend that although machines have proven reliable in general elections, confusion still reigns among local stakeholders, as the newly acquired EVMs at the tune R61 million from Bangalore-based public sector unit, Bharat Electronic Limited (BEL) does not have the option of printing a slip that makes provision for printouts to assure voters that their choice was correctly recorded by the machine.

During a recent panel of discussion on the EVMs organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), different political parties expressed concerns on their usage.

Some participants pointed out that it is critical that strong trust in the electoral system exists when introducing EVMs, while others stressed that Namibia needs to come clear on its goals and the purpose for using EVMs, and that deliberate efforts should be made to ensure timely implementation, training, transparency and sustainability.

Nico Smit of the DTA of Namibia was among those who strongly felt that should the Electronic Voting Machines not meet the requirements of the Namibian law, then there is no need for the country to insist on using them.

He stressed  that in the run up to the introduction of the voting machines, voter education is critical to ensuring proper use of the systems, but more importantly, to ensure that Namibians fully trust the process in creating a credible, free and fair election.

He noted that elections can only be free and fair if the paper trail is included and it is going to be easy for political parties to challenge the results of the upcoming elections. The ECN Director, Professor Paul Isaak, has admitted that there will be no paper trail during the upcoming elections.

“We will not use the paper trail provision for this year’s elections because there are no machines which can produce a paper trail printout yet and it’s too late for us to switch back,” said the ECN director.

He presented a number of important benefits in using the EVMs, with the most obvious being faster results, a reduction in the number of spoilt ballots, reduced cost of running the elections, and the reduction or elimination of avenues for potential manipulation. Meanwhile, Isaak conceded that electronic voting is not without risks, and several countries have opted to stick to manual voting mechanisms due to operational and technical constraints.

The ECN chief remains optimistic that, with the help of Indian EVM technicians and experts attending to these machines before and after voting, the elections will be a success.

Namibia will not be the first country to use electronic voting machines. The machines have been used successfully during the Indian general elections held from April 7 to May 12, 2014.

However, in the March 2013 election in Kenya, in what was meant to be Africa’s most modern election, biometric systems were introduced to streamline the voter registration process, while electronic tallying was used to speed up the counting and tallying process once votes were cast but, due to operational and technical problems, both systems failed. This forced the electoral management body to resort to hand count – a process that took five days and threatened to destabilise the entire electoral process.

In Germany, for example, e-voting was declared unconstitutional in 2009. In the Netherlands in 2008 e-voting was suspended after 20 years of use when activists showed that the systems could, under certain circumstances, endanger the secrecy of the vote. 

Between 2005 and 2009, Ireland invested over 60 million euros in an e-voting solution, before deciding that the system was unreliable.

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