For the past 25 years of plural elections, Malawians have become aware of risks involved in elections. They have always had the potential to turn violent, but next year’s elections are being feared as the worst for several reasons.
The first is because of disparaging remarks being uttered against Vice President Saulos Chilima.
The second reason, I think, is the decision by Chilima to dump DPP and indirectly challenge President Peter Mutharika.
So the Malawi Electoral Commission (Mec) has turned to the use of a technological panacea: the electronic vote. This, Mec says, would help make the election result more credible.
Anyhow, I have also noticed that if properly customised to Malawi’s needs and well implemented by Mec, this system is guaranteed to offer better accessibility to the electorate; help reduce long queues and waiting times for registration and voting; add simplicity and speed to the election cycle like voter identification documents which can make it easier for polling staff to verify details.
Biometric registration can also make the voters’ roll more accurate and reliable.
I am also made to understand that this system can mitigate the risk of impersonation, identity theft, and considerably reduce multiple registration and multiple voting. But then again, those who criticise and disapprove the use of biometrics for voter identification argue that using the system for election purposes raises concerns over voters’ privacy.
Others claim that it poses a threat to democracy because it can potentially violate the secrecy of a vote (or correlation voter – vote). I have also heard about fears of technological failures that could disenfranchise voters; and extra data storage that demands higher security.
In 2007, the violence in Kenya was unprecedented and in order to avoid similar conflicts, Kenya adopted the use of biometric voting. Twice.
The first time was in 2012 when a new electronic system was supposed to guarantee a smooth voting procedure. That didn’t happen.
Five years later, in August 2017, history repeated itself. Last year’s elections were a complete disaster, with the Supreme Court forced to reject the results of the presidential contest for the first time in Kenya’s history.
The Supreme Court ruling was not just important for Kenya but for the whole continent of Africa. It brought to the fore the reality that technology is not a panacea for the sickness of corrupt societies.
It showed that nothing can heal corruption except good governance. In a corrupted society, any kind of technology can be manipulated for personal or selfish reasons, especially during an election.
The point I am trying to make is not much that biometrics voting is wrong but that it can be manipulated.
That is my worry especially in a country like Malawi where corruption has become the shortcut to success. So despite the enormous importance of the electronic vote, the ruling clique “may be more concerned about retaining power than about serving the public interest.”
The irony is that in the western world, such as Germany, the electronic voting system is not used because it is considered less transparent than the manual voting system.
Even in the United States, some states in the Trump election used paper votes.
But the difference between Malawi and these countries is that bribery and rigging are not key determinants of election results, so it does not matter much if the elections are conducted using manual or electronic systems.
So in a corrupt society like ours, any kind of technology can be manipulated for personal or selfish reasons especially during an election. This, my friends, is what is bothering me. Is E-Voting or