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Uganda to Use Biometric Verification Machines for Elections

Uganda's presidential candidates take part in a presidential debate in Uganda's capital Kampala on Jan. 15, 2016, ahead of the Feb. 18 presidential election. Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni did not attend the debate.

Uganda's electoral commission plans to meet next week with representatives of the country's eight presidential candidates, political parties and stakeholders to explain its decision to use a biometric system to verify voters in the February 18 general election.

This would be the first time that the electoral body employs a biometric system, which uses human body characteristics to confirm a person's identity.

Jotham Taremwa, a spokesman for the electoral commission, says the deployment of the biometric verification mechanism at all polling stations across the country will significantly boost the credibility of the presidential, legislative and local elections. The commission has begun training its officers in how to use the system.

"For the first time in our history of elections in Uganda, we are going to use biometric voter verification equipment at every polling station. When you come as a voter, the machine identifies you as so and your voting status by using either your thumbprint or a barcode on the back of your national ID [identification] or a barcode on the voter location's list that we will be issuing at least two weeks before the polling," Taremwa said.

FILE - People line up as they wait to cast their vote at the Nakasero polling station in the center of Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 18, 2011.
FILE - People line up as they wait to cast their vote at the Nakasero polling station in the center of Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 18, 2011.

"We are going to engage with all the parties and the official agents of the candidates to talk about this machine, he said, “but also demonstrate to them on how it would be used and what advantages come with it. And later we will roll out to our districts, sub-counties and parishes. So that by the time we go to the polling, everybody would appreciate and know how the machine works."

‘One man, one vote’

The electoral commission compiled the voter list to be used for the elections using the biometric system to register prospective Ugandan voters.

Taremwa says it would be improper for the biometric system to be used to compile the voter list but not used for the elections.

Civil society and opposition groups have urged the electoral commission to ensure there are backup machines in case there are malfunctions, as happened in some African countries during polling.

"So far we have received about 17,000 out of over 30,000 machines we require," Taremwa said.

"We have about 1,400 sub-counties in Uganda and each sub-county will have at least two machines that we will used in case there is a technical problem on one of the machines within that sub-county."

Opposition supporters have also questioned the timing of the decision to deploy the biometric verification system in this year's polling. They said the electoral commission ignored previous demands that the system be used to ensure credible and transparent elections.

"It is part of our operational reforms as electoral commission to ensure that the principle of one man, one vote holds. And that is why we needed that machine to identify the voter and then we can check that voter in the register, but also ensure that we know somebody's voting status," Taremwa said.

"Previously, when we didn't have biometric voter registration, somebody would vote ... and drive his vehicle and vote 30 kilometers [away]. So there were chances that the process could be rigged. But this time we think we are [stopping] that one."

Meanwhile, the ballot papers to be used for the elections are being printed both locally and internationally. The electoral commission says companies in Uganda, South Africa, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom are in the advanced stages of printing the sensitive documents to be used at the polls.

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