Afghanistan biometric voter kits need last-minute upgrade as process criticized

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The Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan says it will install new software on the 39,544 biometric devices from Dermalog intended for use in upcoming presidential elections, TOLOnews reports. The devices are capturing fingerprint and facial biometrics, but not identifying repeated biometric inputs, according to the report, and critics are questioning the will of the IEC to use biometrics as planned to ensure a transparent and fair election.

Members of major political parties have accused the IEC of not following the decisions of political leaders in the country, and of not sufficiently improving the system after uneven use of biometric devices in last year’s parliamentary election failed to dispel rumors of voter fraud. The results from Kabul were eventually annulled.

“The devices which have arrived have paved the way for a major fraud in the [parliamentary] elections [last year]. This helps people to vote for hundreds of times in one center so that millions of repeated votes can arrive in the center and then the officials say that the main servers have the ability to detect millions of votes,” TOLOnews reports Jamiat-e-Islami party member Humayun Jarir as saying.

Presidential candidate Noor Rahman Liwal accused government insiders of having shares in Dermalog, and embezzling funds. The results of the previous presidential election were widely disputed, however, with international mediation needed to settle on a power-sharing agreement.

The IEC defended the purchase of the devices as based on an understanding between different stakeholder groups.

“If any of our partners in the election have any question, we are ready to address their questions till the last day of the process,” said Habib-Ur-Rahman Nang, head of the IEC secretariat.
Meanwhile, Dermalog specialists have arrived in Afghanistan to work with the IEC on updating the devices to perform as intended.

“The commission has the responsibility to lead the process appropriately, particularly when it comes to the issue of biometric devices, otherwise, we will witness a fraudulent election,” a spokesman for Junbishi-e-Milli party Ehsan Nairo said.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that some women within the country are unwilling to perform biometric authentication to vote, and therefore will not be able to exercise their democratic rights. Religious conservatism motivates some women to decline to have their photograph taken, and some have the mistaken impression that the process involves printing their photos.

“The biometric images of the female voters will be taken by female election workers inside the closed, designated areas that men won’t be allowed to enter,” IEC spokesperson Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi says, adding that photos are kept in a digital database but not printed.

Afghan NGO Free and Fair Elections Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA) supports the use of biometrics for voter verification, and its Executive Director Yousuf Rasheed says men cast ballots on behalf of women in “many cases” in previous elections. He notes that the official statistics indicate more women voted than men in past elections, and says that deep conservatism in some areas and a lack of accurate information could reduce the participation of women in the election. He also points out that some people against women’s voting rights might use the biometric system as a pretext to prevent women from voting.

The IEC announced just weeks ago that facial recognition would be used, in addition to fingerprint and iris recognition, for voter verification, and Rasheed criticized the IEC for not clearly communicating the process earlier.

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