Electronic voter registration, processing here to stay

04Feb 2019
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Electronic voter registration, processing here to stay

WITH the National Electoral Commission (NEC) now in the process of updating the voter register by instituting impeccable or entirely reliable biometric voter register as the key instrument for a voter update ahead of the next general elections, a war of words has started.

There are bona fide stakeholders who express a semblance of genuine doubt over the process of installing and use of that equipment, and ipso facto casting doubt on the reliability of the voter register arising from it. It should not be installed until the debate is finished.

Experience shows that the debate will never get finished because the terms involved are far from clear, for instance whether the problem is equipment and how it works, or someone is in deep distrust of the hands that operate it.

As a matter of fact critics base their arguments on the technical part, that electronic registers are notoriously or in considerable frequency proved to be unreliable, but no one remembers them praising the polls commission in its habitual manual update procedures. So NEC risks an interminable debate on this issue.

Not many observers expect NEC to submit to debates as the proper way of organising and scheduling its poll preparation program, as that would be a recipe for chaos at a subsequent moment.

Those who would have distracted the commission from getting the work done and arrangements for the polls would reap the benefits of whatever disturbances on the polls calendar arose from it, and thus they are playing a double game. They foster confusion and then reap from it, as all confusion discredits those in authority, not agents provocateurs.

There has been countless criticisms of electoral voter registration, but we all remember it worked well enough in the past general elections, especially as it provides a database that it also linked with national identification authorities, to ease verification of demanders of identity cards, etc.

Instead of starting the debate as regards how such equipment operates, it is better to take up experience of the 2015 process and its electronic registration aspect, and rectify whatever mishaps or anomalies that may have been experienced. It is evident nothing quite negative was noticed at the time, in which case recent cries of alarm on the voter register update looked strange.

Even in countries as advanced in democratic conduct as the United States, a huge hullabaloo on electronic vote counting broke out in the 2000 presidential election, and pundits all over the place said the Republicans had stolen votes.

In the US they don't steal votes, and that is why they can speak strongly about that kind of misconduct anywhere in the world, not hiding under epithets of non-interference in internal affairs of other countries.

In that case disputes on electronic voter registers and vote counting will be with us for a while, especially as we are still young in democratic practices; learning the steps includes being careful on crying wolf.