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Somaliland election commission testing iris biometric-based voter registration system


The National Election Commission of Somaliland has begun testing an iris recognition-based voter registration system in preparation for a national election system, with the fourth trial voter records comprised of people in the Hargeisa and Toghdeer regions, according to a report by Somaliland Press.

The move comes a year after the Somaliland government’s election experts approached University of Notre Dame’s biometric research group, led by Kevin Bowyer, to develop the biometric system to improve the accuracy of its election process.

At the time, Bowyer said the NEC of Somaliland was looking “to create a fraud-free voter registration list” in which it “turned to biometrics as a means to generate such a list.”

If implemented, the iris-based biometric system would be one of the most advanced voter registration systems in the world, according to Abdikadir Iman Warsame, chairman of the NEC of Somaliland.

“It’s high time the new voter’s registration system is put in place the upcoming presidential and parliamentary national elections, in order to be fully prepared when that time comes,” said Warsame.

Bowyer and his team developed algorithms that are able to accurately identify individuals who have previously registered, regardless of whether they are wearing different coloured or textured contact lenses.

“Fingerprint might seem like an obvious choice for biometric verification of a voting register, but it runs into problems with the percentage of the population for which an acceptable quality image can be obtained,” said Bowyer.

This weakness regarding fingerprint readers can be exploited by individuals looking to commit voter fraud by registering multiple times.

In a biometric voter registration exercise conducted in 2008-09, the NEC of Somaliland used fingerprints and facial recognition to effectively clean the voting register.

In a 2010 report, the Electoral Reform International Services for the NEC of Somaliland found that “this register is known to contain a large number of duplicates, possibly around 30%, and the existing biometric systems could not identify these with the data available,” resulting in the need for a new register.

Notre Dame University said the Bowyer group’s publications on iris recognition technology helped to convince the NEC of Somaliland that iris recognition was a feasible solution.

“Data acquisition for the field study was conducted over a five-day period in two registration centres: one in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, and one in Baki, a small town about 60 miles from Hargeisa,” said Bowyer. “The data was transferred electronically to our research group at Notre Dame, where we performed the iris recognition analysis, and then reported our results back.”

According to Notre Dame University, Somaliland will proceed to create a new national voting register to be used in the next elections.

The biometrically validated voting register is said to be one of the most technically sophisticated voting registers in the world, which researchers hope will lead to more transparent and believable election results.

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