Zimbabwe’s biometric voter registration system hangs in balance

Authorities unsure of whether or not funds necessary to finance the system will be made available in time.

Source: Zimbabwe’s biometric voter registration system hangs in balance – ITWeb Africa 27 February 2017

The Zimbabwe biometric voter registration (BVR) system is expected to be fully functional in March 2017 as part of a broader plan to utilise ICT in the running of the country’s general elections, scheduled for July 2018. The BVR system will be used during registration and voting.

Amid allegations of fraudulent voter registration and ballot stuffing, the local opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) has expressed concern over the security of the infrastructure and the sluggish pace of the implementation of the BVR system.

MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu described the implementation of the BVR system as “a move in the right direction” but added, “we’re concerned about the security of the software and hardware, which can be manipulated to rig elections.”

The system is designed to capture voters’ unique biometric features, specifically fingerprints and facial imaging, which is then recorded in a database.

As part of the process, the government initiated a tender in December inviting potential local and international companies to supply BVR kits. The tender was closed in January.

Approximately five out of 12 independent distributors that expressed interest in supplying the voting equipment have been shortlisted. Names of companies shortlisted were not made public at the time of going to press. However among the twelve companies are telecoms provider Africom, and Nikuv, an Israeli technology company that specialises in ID and population registration.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has pledged to fund a part the procurement of BVR and the government is reportedly expected to inject US$55 million.

In parliament last week, Zimbabwe Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa said the cash-strapped government was battling to secure the money.

Local ICT expert Peter Kwenda said intensive voter education is mandatory before the adoption of the BVR system. “The BVR should build credibility by improving the efficiency of the electoral process,” he adds.

Kwenda also believes the system needs to be fully tested prior to the elections.

In 2012, Ghana had no choice but to extend its voting date after experiencing technical faults with the BVR kits, and both Malawi and Somalia faced similar issues.

In Ghana the BVMs broke down at some polling stations, frustrating the voting process.

Bennin, Malawi, Tanzania, Togo, Mauritania, Ivory Coast and Nigeria have implemented the BVR system.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, mandated to manage the elections, did not respond to a query on the organisation’s chances of acquiring the money before March.