Friday, August 25, 2006

Biometrics to be used in Zambia's elections

Question for My beloved Country: Are we willing ot move ahead or woudl rather remain with our status quo which serves our nefarity?

Biometrics to be used in Zambia's elections
Culled from HANA
By: Brenda Zulu
18:21:06 23/08/2006

Article blurbZambia's 2006 elections will for the first time make use of an electronic system in which biometric information will be loaded onto a database as it has proved to be more accurate and less prone to manipulation than the current practice of verification of some form of identification documents.

Zambia's 2006 elections will for the first time make use of an electronic system in which biometric information will be loaded onto a database as it has proved to be more accurate and less prone to manipulation than the current practice of verification of some form of identification documents.

Biometrics is the use of fingerprints, palm prints or iris scans to provide an accurate identification and verification of a person.

A tour of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) found workers scanning and loading information of aspiring candidates onto the data base. Most of the work was almost finished as all voters' right hand thumb finger prints had already been scanned. The ECZ was also found to be producing Geographical Information System (GIS) maps for all constituencies in the country as this was previously done by the surveyors department.

GIS is a system for creating, storing, analyzing and managing spatial data and associated attributes. Mpundu Sholomo Mfula the Information Technology (IT) Deputy Director at ECZ, said biometrics was being used in Zambia to add value to the election process. However, he said that the traditional method of using an identity document to verify the identity of a voter could in the past not catch up with people who had two registration cards as they could use both to vote.

He pointed out that this was the reason why voters in the past were asked to leave their right finger prints in the voters registration books so that they could be scanned in order to verify one's identification. He added that cheating on one's identity status will not be possible with the use of the biometrics.

Under the voters' registration, the ECA has set up a database of registered voters using biometric indicators which is an efficient and accurate means of identification.

Mfula indicated that the 2006 voters register was now a permanent register because all the information is stored on a data base. But before the elections are due there will still be a registration of new voters those who were not registered before and of those who had moved from other constituencies.

Mfula also said that after elections there will also be an Audit trail. This will help skeptics overcome fears of computer error by producing a paper output which would allow a full manual recount if the results are contested.

The tour at ECZ also showed Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) which has stored over 4 million scanned finger prints of registered voters in Zambia. ECZ Deputy Director of Finance Mwelwa Chibichabo said the equipment was purchased from Waymark Info Tech in South Africa at the cost of 13 million US Dollars. Waymark has conducted elections in several African countries which include Tanzania, Nigeria and South Africa.

Mfula explained that in relation to Result Management, ECZ was now connected to ZAMTEL through a radio link to all 72 Districts and will also be connected to Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), and Mulungushi International Conference Center where the counting of votes will take place.

Should we not be using technology to enhance the effectiveness for how we implement the very cornerstone of democracy, voting to choose our political leaders?

Despite the obvious problems of connecting to the national electricity grid, Mfula said that there was need for people's mindsets against technology to change in order for Zambia to reach that stage of voting electronically.

Linda Mphande Nglazi a voter in Mandevu constituency in Lusaka said she could not trust electronic voting because of power failures and possible accusations of rigging elections since people are already used to manual system of voting and counting.

She however observed that in any system of elections in a democratic environment, electronic or otherwise, the elections dictate that: voters need to register to be eligible to vote; that each voter need to be identified as an eligible voter; that the voters vote is kept secret, that the voter only votes once; that voters have access to polling stations during the period of the elections, that the votes are accurately recorded and counted and that an audit trail is kept in order to verify the accuracy of results if necessary.

Aubrey Andrew Mwelwa a voter in Nkana constituency in Kitwe on the Copperbelt was in favour of Zambia considering e-voting in future so that even when one was away from his constituency, he could vote from any point and that this could also cater for people in the Diaspora.

"Without thinking twice Zambia should consider going e-voting in the future. The direct benefits of e-voting are ease of voter registration, accuracy of voter identification, accuracy of recording and counting of votes, speed of processing voters through a polling station, speed of counting votes and publication of results and ease or recount and verification."

Mwelwa said it was also essential that all voters have access to polling stations. "Access should not be limited to geographic location but should also take account of hours of operation and the length of time it takes to pass through the process."

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