South African biometrics executive argues cost and efficiency benefits of biometric electoral system
Biometric voter identification could slash the costs of elections in South Africa, and the country should review its Electoral Act to support a secure and trusted digital identity token, according to a post contributed to Intelligent CIO.
While South Africa’s May general elections will be free and fair under the watch of the country’s Electoral Commission (IEC), they will also cost hundreds of millions of rands, equivalent to tens of millions of US dollars, according to the CEO of South Africa-based biometrics firm Ideco, Marius Coetzee.
Coetzee lauds IEC’s efforts in general, but identifies three areas for improvement. Efficiency could be improved with biometric voter registration, enrolling and geolocating voters and automatically updating the roll of voters. Then biometric authentication could verify the identity of the voter and check them against the roll, while Coetzee suggests biometrics could be used to access a portal or terminal for an e-voting system enabling nearly real-time results and effective election monitoring.
“In many countries, one or two of these processes may be digitised, already delivering significant cost savings and efficiencies,” Coetzee writes. “But only when a country harnesses advanced biometrics and digital processes across all three areas of the voting process can the full benefits of these technologies be realised.”
He says that now is an ideal time to start preparing a more efficient system for the next general elections. Rather than look to continental leaders, such as Ghana, Coetzee suggests South Africa should look to Estonia as a model to emulate. More than a quarter of Estonia’s population was voting online even five years ago, and Coetzee says that despite debate about potential risks, it has been found “highly cost-effective and efficient.”
South Africa has attempted to leverage biometrics for social benefit payments, but was forced to suspend the system’s use last year amid a labor dispute.