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Ghana Confronts Challenges of Biometric Voter Registration

Ghana is preparing to begin its first-ever biometric voter registration ahead of December’s general elections. The $45-million project has been piloted in some areas, but social and technological difficulties remain.

Ghana is not the first country in Africa to go high-tech with voter registration. Countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo already have adopted the finger-print scanning technology to help prevent electoral fraud.

Like Ghana, these countries share a history of bloated registration, and varying levels of disputes about election results. And, even though Ghana’s 2008 elections were deemed free and fair by international observers, politicians expressed concern about foreign and underage voters.

Improving the voting process

Ghana is hoping that the biometric system will verify that those who are voting should be voting, and that they only vote once.

IT consultant Bonzie Acquah, however, said biometrics cannot solve all the issues. “This system is not fool-proof in the sense that it cannot detect minors and non Ghanaians.”

There are other issues, as well. There are 23,000 polling stations in the country, but they are not interconnected to share registration information. Acquah said that leaves room for duplication.

“It means that I could go to [station] ‘A’, register, clean any indelible ink I’ve been marked with and still be able to go to center ‘B’ and register with a different shirt probably. I will still be able to get two ID cards,” said Acquah.

Acquah said it will be very important that the same system used for the registration be made available for verification on the day of election.

“It means that there will be a central data base somewhere, where all the polling stations are going to refer to, to be able to verify that yes, this is me. I registered at this polling station and this is the correct picture,” said Acquah.

Being prepared on Election Day

Ghana’s electoral commission has promised such a system will be in place for verification on Election Day.

Success also will depend on how widely voters accept the biometric system. Some have expressed apprehension about the process, including unfounded fears that collection of data such as facial scans and fingerprints could cause cancer.

But the acting director of public affairs for the Electoral Commission, Christian Owusu-Pare, said some 42,000 field personnel have been trained to help overcome these and other challenges.

Owusu-Pare promises that no region of the country will be left out. He said the commission has procured scanners that are battery operated and can work for 16 hours a day.

“In our particular case, the registration is 11 hours a day. Besides that, because of the unreliable nature of power supply in some parts of the country, we have also procured generators. In case there is no electricity, the generators would be used to charge the batteries when they run down,” said Owusu-Pare.

Despite the challenges, Ghana’s election officials say this new registration system can only help make elections in this fairly stable democracy that much better.