As biometric voter registration increases, Brookings looks to India for lessons
The proposed integration of the Aadhaar biometric national ID and India’s voter registration database will set an important precedent for governments in other countries, The Brookings Institution writes.
The spread of biometric identity databases is itself an issue of concern for policymakers, as is the integration of biometrics and voter registration, which has reached 50 out of 176 democracies, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. The technology’s capacity to prevent fraud is acknowledged, but election management bodies generally do not have the resources to build and implement their own biometric systems.
The Election Commission of India requested that Electoral Photo ID Cards (EPICs) should be linked to Aadhaar accounts, with the EC arguing that the move will also help migrants vote at the polling station where they temporarily reside for the election where they are registered. A broad range of civil society groups oppose the move.
The Brookings article identifies two concerns of particular relevance to the link between Aadhaar and EPIC: the lack of data standards for enrollment into the digital ID system; and the lack of transparency and accountability in how data is managed when it is used to seed other databases.
The conclusion drawn by author Patrick Jones, an emerging media and digital technology scholar, is that national biometric databases are problematic, especially when the scope of their use expands. Further, a list of contextual factors must be considered before applying biometrics to election, such as how secure the system is and how access to the data is regulated and monitored. The independence of the electoral management body is important, as is its competence.
Jones also warns of the extension of voter registration biometrics into the actual voting process, as was tested in Telengana last year.
Meanwhile, governments around the world are considering how to use biometrics in elections, in the context of many of the same concerns as have arisen in India.
Nigeria trial detects duplicates
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Nigeria has performed a trial of voter authentication with fingerprint and face biometrics embedded in their voter ID cards, The Nation reports.
The test run of the Bimodal Voters Authentication System (BVAS) was run in multiple cities in the small Nigerian state of Ekiti, and detected 47,633 duplicate voters, according to Today.
A total of 124,963 people had been registered during the recent continuous voter registration initiative.
INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu said he was satisfied with the performance of the biometric system, which was tested in three cities in the state. The process lasted between a minute and two minutes, with few failures to capture voter biometrics.
Nigeria recently established a data protection authority, and while the scope of the biometrics use has increased significantly in the country, the systems are not all based on the National Identity Number (NIN).
Pakistan plans pilots
The National Assembly of Pakistan has approved legislation to reverse a bill from the previous government which had prevented pilots of electronic voting machines, biometric verification, and online voting for overseas Pakistanis, Dunya News reports.
The previous government had approved the use of the technologies for general elections without further testing.
The new Bill reversing the previous amendments is also expected to pass the upper chamber of Pakistan’s legislature.
Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar, who is also Pakistan’s Law and Justice Minister, said greater technical expertise and public awareness are required before electronic voting machines can be effectively used across the country, and emphasized the need for greater transparency, as suggested in the Brookings report.
Guyana adds to voter roll
More than 30,000 first-time registrants are slated to be added to Guyana’s biometric voter roll, according to news outlet Demerara Waves. The registration exercise began on March 7, and concludes May 29.
The new enrollments, including fingerprint biometrics, will be compared to the existing database to weed out any duplicate registrations.
The major opposition party has alleged that fraudulent registrations are included on the electoral roll, including deceased people and migrants, but the Civic Elections Commissioner, a representative of the ruling party, says no evidence to that effect has been provided.
Brookings would surely suggest an independent Commissioner would be better-placed to resolve the disagreement.