What is Biometric Voter Registration - BVR?
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Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) is the process of requiring eligible voters to go through some kind of biometric analysis for recording, be it fingerprint or iris scanning technology. Doing so allows them to be a registered voter and prove their identity when they go to vote. Has this been done elsewhere in Africa or is Kenya the guinea pig of this project? Yes. On 24th March 2012, the Electoral Commission of Ghana (ECG) commenced a process to compile a new voter roll for the upcoming December 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana.
African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Zambia, and Uganda have also turned to technology to improve the accuracy of their voter registers. Biometric technology is expected to help curb some of the fraudulent practices that political parties engage in. These include double registration, registration of unqualified voters (minors –under 18 year olds and non-citizens) and the retention of names of deceased voters on the voter roll.
In Ghana, a ‘Cluster System’ whereby polling stations were placed in a cluster of 4 polling stations and given one of the 7,000 registration kits was adopted. The kit remained at each polling station for 10 days and the registration team rested a day and moved on to the next polling station within the cluster for another 10 days. This allowed the system to check double registration on a daily basis and identify cheats early. The adoption of this strategy was informed by the experience of Nigeria where it took a long time to undertake the matching of fingerprints to eliminate double registration, which can undermine confidence in the voter roll.
Biometric identifiers cannot be shared, misplaced, and they intrinsically represent the individual’s identity. In general and which is important for our present purposes, biometrics can be used for positive identification, that is, to prove that an individual is who they claim to be.
To overcome the ever present challenge of poor voter education and especially in the rural areas, Ghana Decides, a non-partisan project, was started in March 2012. The use of social media by this project is something to be noted. Ghana Decides utilized various social media sites to reach voters including Storify, Google+, Youtube, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter. They also worked to dispell common concerns that BVR causes cancer and promote the technique as a safe and accessible process.
However, BVR is not a panacea to fraud free elections. The DRC for example introduced biometric technology in its registration exercise for its November 2011 elections but it could not stop ballot stuffing and inflation of figures during the collation of the results. The integrity of the biometric voter register itself was called into question by both domestic and international election watchers.
In spite of all the challenges, the introduction of biometrics in the compilation of voter registers should improve the accuracy of the voter registers and provide the foundation for clean and violence free elections.
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