Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mayhem in Akwatia: Isn't Ghana ready for Electronic Voting yet?

Electronic Voting Machine. Source: USA Today

If you have been following the wonderful world of Ghanaian politricks, then you know that this past Tuesday saw the re-run of part of the 2008 election. Six polling stations in the diamond-enriched constituency of Akwatia in the Eastern region had to be done over. The final outcome of the election appeared inevitable even before the re-run since the ruling party candidate Mr. Baba Jamal needed to win over 80% of all votes cast at these 6 polling stations. This was because the opposition candidate was already ahead by over 3000 votes from 80+ other polling stations in the constituency. Unfortunately for Mr. Jamal the election outcome was not a case of 'third time lucky'.

What got me concerned about this particular election were the media reports of mayhem, loss of life, harassment, damage to property and divisive ethnic undertones that characterised the entire process. In the end, a curfew had to imposed on Akwatia. Such reports of havoc contrast the Ghanaian image garnered from the December 2008 election as the Beacon of African Democracy (BAD) . Speaking of Ghana Election 2008, it was actually stolen ballot boxes from the 6 polling stations in Akwatia that precipitated this August 2009 re-run.

So the question bothering me now is how to make elections freer and fairer in the BAD??? Why can't we be making moves towards introducing electronic voting in Ghana? What is electronic voting anyway?

According to the good people at Wikipedia (God bless 'em) electronic voting basically encompasses electronic means of casting votes and electronic means of counting votes.
This could be combined with biometric facial recognition software or finger-printing systems to register voters. This would supposedly ensure one voter, one vote. Electronic voting has been used in India, Brazil, the US and a whole bunch of other countries and I can't see why our government cannot start lobby the World Bank/IMF for funds to introduce such systems in Ghana?

Note: Electronic systems are far from perfect. In the 2000 US Presidential election, the infamous failure of electronic punch-card systems in the state of Florida may have affected the overall outcome of the tight race between George Bush and Al Gore. Then there was the weird and wacky satirical film Man of the Year starring Robin Williams that had the completely ludicrous candidate winning the US Presidential Election due to a software glitch in the tallying of votes.

Besides, the deservedly reigning Ghanaian champion of democracy, our electoral commissioner Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan does not think we are ready for biometric systems just yet. He made that point at a forum held at the Ghanaian Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), earlier this year. According to Dr. Afari-Gyan "the incredibility or otherwise of an election depends on multifaceted factors which include the
1. Expertise and skills of the Electoral Commission
2. Timely release of resources by government for the prosecution of the elections,
3. Free and fair reportage by media
4. Contestant conducting civil campaigns.
5. Avoidance of multiple voting
6. The protection of ballot boxes by the security services
7. Speedy adjudication of election disputes"

Dr. Afari-Gyan may have a point but I still believe that electronic voting could break down some of the barriers listed above. So what are feelings out there? Could we benefit from electronic voting in Ghana? Or are we just introducing more havoc to an already chaotic system?


Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Electronic voting can make or unmake us. Assuming that people find ways of manipulating this software and besides do we have enough software analysts/engineers to monitor these things? How can we trust these people since this time round papers would not be brought out and counted but all additions would be done within some 'machine'. Would the people accept that?

It can also make us and help our democracy if we all accept that that is the way to go. Also, we would need a foolproof software (and a software is as foolproof as the level of knowledge of the people who developed it. Once someone with a higher knowledge comes in it loses this). So we can perhaps test it alongside a normal voting system before we accept it.

Abena said...

Hey Nana F-A: I guess it is really a lose-lose situation. I do believe that we have the talent here in Ghana (even though most of it has emigrated) but whether the electorate would trust the results is another thing.

Oluniyi David Ajao said...

Your pitch about "...I can't see why our government cannot start lobby the World Bank/IMF for funds to introduce such systems in Ghana?" got me wondering: Is Ghana still a colony?

Abena said...

Yes David, you are correct. We are indeed living in a neo-colonial reality that we cannot deny as much as we would love to think we are self-sufficient. After all, didn't Ghana follow the World Bank/IMF's structural adjustment to the letter in the 1990s? Didn't we also go HIPC as prescribed by these same institutions in 2001? Aren't we currently celebrating being deemed worthy of a new loan from the WB/IMF with a long list of conditions? In fact, if you can point out one African democratic state that is completely independent of these institutions then I would be impressed....Democratic being the key word.

Since we are already so reliant why not put in loan requests to strengthen our democracy?

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Abena said...

Thanks Susan, please keep on reading :)

Pen Powder said...

Wonderful view, thanks!

novisi said...

i believe any system of voting could be made transparent! electronic or manual.

and there are ways of going about this if only the commitment is there.

for me, the electronic system just fits into more modern ways of doing things: electronic! that alone does not guarantee transparency.

one simple way of ensuring transparency with the electronic system is to have projectors display on big screens the count of votes at the polling centres as voting goes on.

you don't need to show the distribution per candidate until the voting is done (people like myself would love that distribution even before the voting ends but not many out there would appreciate it. so you just keep that till the voting is over).

so it can be done. but word on the ground suggests that the folks at the forefront of our politics only considering the biometric data for authenticating registered voters.

i believe a number of places in this country could marked to pilot this electronic system.


novisi said...

again, i think people like Afari-Djan must wake up small.

the man seems to suffer inertia on this subject.

1. if you want expertise to handle 'electronic voting system' what do you do? sit down and say it's cry maa maaa maaa that it's a problem or push for the required training to be given to staff??????????

2. yes, govt. must be pushed to release resources. no delay!

3. all the noise about the media in such general terms is neither here nor there for me. it is misleading to say the least. first of all there's difference between state sponsored media and private media.

state media has no choice than to be balanced. it's their mandate. on the other hand private media must be left free to report whatever they want to report. be it true or false. and if anyone has any challenge for the private media they must have the opportunity to do so. simple.

4. can 'civil campaigns' be legislated?????????? the best you can do is to encourage it. so this is not a primary issue. push for crime and infringement of our electoral laws to be punished instead.

5. electronic system (with biometric data) can easily deal with multiple registrations and voting.

6. electronic system does not need ballot boxes.

7. the needed push must continue for our courts to timely deal with electoral disputes.

I hope Afari-Djan is reading.

Abena said...

@Pen Powder: Thank you!

@Novisi: *Wow* Thanks for the comprehensive perspective on the matter! You raise some very pertinent and interesting points..

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

this is a great discussion but I think we are forgetting those located at Dwarf Islands (where election ballots can take one or two weeks to come)...I mean what about the places where drinking water is a problem let alone electricity to power the equipments, or are we going to use generators? Perhaps we were thinking too much of the cities such that we have forgotten the majority of people are in remote areas without electrical power.

Abena said...

Thanks Nana F-A. You raise some pertinent issues here. I completely took for granted that we have serious problems with lack of access, electricity as well as light-offs that could affect the whole process. Maybe some of the machines are battery operated??..I have no idea. In reality, maybe we are not ready for such a process. Perhaps in 100 years?