Election Universe

Is Biometric voting registration a promising trend in Africa?

Is Biometric voting registration a promising trend in Africa?
August 13 2018, 18:43

Africa has been experiencing swift political transitions during the last few decades. Reforms have come with demands for greater transparency and accountability. In consequence many of the election management bodies have accepted the challenge. They have realized that weak election administration can lead to poll manipulation and decreased trust in democratic institutions.

The adoption of election technology, such as biometrics has become a useful trend in the continent’s elections. Biometrics allow the capture and recognition of unique physical characteristics, whether fingerprints (also hand geometry or palmprints), iris, face, voice, signature, or some patterns of behaviour. It, therefore, has the potential to enhance voters’ records, and support voting rights.

Empowering African election technology

According to data from International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and the Africa Research Institute, more than half of the countries in Africa and Latin America use biometric technology in elections. For instance, 35% of over 130 surveyed EMBs globally by IDEA (2016) confirmed they are currently capturing biometric data (such as fingerprints or photos) as part of their voter registration processes.

African countries which use (or have used) biometrics in their voting registration include Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Swaziland (Eswatini), Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Benefits of biometric voting registration

A clean and up-to-date voter register is a critical first step to a legitimate election. Capturing, comparing and organizing biometric and biographic data of registered voters helps prevent one common form of electoral fraud: impersonation. It also increases efficiency, security and transparency during critical stages of the cycle, such as voter identification and authentication.

In African, EMBs require customized identity management solutions, which can assist in creating or updating national civil registers as well as voter databases. Efficiency in administering resources is essential. Voters expect an easy, reliable, fast and safe registration method to re-engage with their election processes.

An appropriate biometric voting registration solution should help the country to:

  • Establish a comprehensive, reliable and inclusive voters’ database, for future identification and authentication on Election Day.
  • Record all voters’ information, giving them the ability to be quickly updated in the future.
  • Help achieve stability, credibility, equality and integration in sustainable elections.
  • Improve election management: planning, training, increase registration and participation, voting credibility, results in auditing, among others.

Finally, even though biometric technology can be a powerful tool, election commissions should consider evaluating the most appropriate technology for their situation, the legal and regulatory frameworks for the protection of personal information, the interconnexion between civil and election registration institutions, training, support and sustainability guaranties.