The Electoral Commission (EC) has stated that it is on course to produce a new credible biometric voters register and dispatch copies to all the constituencies by November 8.
By its calender, which has been shown to some senior journalists and editors as part of its engagement and consultation with key stakeholders, the EC estimates that the registration process, the exhibition of register and adjudication on challenges raised will all end by October 26, this year.
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The Chairperson of the EC, Mrs Jean Mensa, who announced this at a media engagement last Saturday, said a lot of buffer — allowing enough room to accommodate delays and contingencies — had been built into the timelines to ensure that they were not missed.
The EC will also make room for people challenging the identity of others on the register, a process known as objection adjudication and correction, which would take place between October 1 and 9, this year, while the authentication of the register by revising officers would take place between October 12 and 15, this year.
In 2012, the register was authenticated between September 25 and 30, 2012, with the 2016 exercise taking place from October 6 to 10.
The receipt of nominations from presidential and parliamentary candidates will be done between October 5 and 9, this year. The exercise was conducted from October 17 to 19 in 2012 and between August 29 and 30 in the last election four years ago.
This will pave the way for the submission of the final voters register to all political parties on November 4, this year, as was the case in 2012 and 2016 when it was done within the first week of November.
The processes will enable the EC to dispatch copies of the register to all constituencies by November 8, this year.
“A lot of thought and estimation have gone into setting the timelines to ensure that we are able to compile and print a new biometric register ahead of the polls on December 7,” Mrs Mensa explained.
She said compiling a credible register, which had only true and eligible Ghanaian citizens on it, was the responsibility of all and called on the public to assist the commission to ensure that only Ghanaians who were 18 years and above had their names on the register.
Besides challenges with the biometric voter management system (BVMS) — used for the 2012 and 2016 general elections, the 2018 referendum for the creation of new districts and the district level elections last year — which made the administration of polls precarious and challenging, the EC explained that the current register, which was compiled in 2012, was also over-bloated because many people who had passed away still had their names on it.
Collusion and over-voting
Aside from setbacks with the current system, including the biometric verification devices having reached end-of-life status (meaning that the manufacturer has stopped producing them), coupled with warranties that expired in 2014 and some people having unreadable fingerprints, the EC said it was not advisable to have a biometric voters register along with a manual verification system, hence the decision for a new system that closed all the gaps and loopholes.
Supported by his two deputies, Mr Samuel Tetteh and Dr Eric Bossman Asare, as well as the Director of Electoral Services, Dr Serebour Quarcoe, and other senior officials of the EC, the chairperson explained that since there were names of many people who had passed away on the register, collusion at polling stations, especially in strongholds of some political parties, could result in double or multiple voting when people were allowed to cast ballots using the names of the deceased.
Mrs Mensa said the contract with the old information technology (IT) services provider for the EC had to be abrogated because “it was only milking the EC”.
Limitations of the system included exclusive access and management of the system by only the vendor, who could virtually shut down the system remotely and hold the commission to ransom.
The devices and machines used in capturing voter information into the database and for verification on voting day had all reached end-of-life status, meaning the manufacturer was no longer producing them and its support for the system could only continue for a short period.
Warranties for the software had also expired and not renewed, while the cost of maintaining and running the system was also very high.
The systems were also not open, in the sense that they existed in formats and standards that did not accommodate updates from other producers, except from that particular vendor, the EC officials explained.
With those challenges, and with a referendum to run in 2018, the EC said it invited the consultant who had advised the EC to adopt a new biometric voters register in 2012, to carry out an audit of the IT infrastructure and the BVMS of the EC.
The consultant, after the audit, recommended a new BVMS system that was amenable to revisions and which was interoperable, accepting other applications and add-ons.
Responding to a question during the engagement, which had a long interactive and open forum segment, on whether the EC would ignore those opposed to the new register, Mrs Mensa said: “We have a mandate to deliver; we’re looking forward to situations where parties will contribute in telling us how to do our work better, not that we shouldn’t do our work.”
She thanked the media, which she described as an important stakeholder of the EC, for their support and pledged that the EC would continue to engage practitioners to enable them to educate the public on the electoral process.
In a presentation, the IT consultant for the EC, Dr Yaw Ofori-Adjei, explained that the old equipment was purchased in 2011, with 500 new updates added in 2013, adding that a large quantity of the kits had many faulty parts, such as mouse, keyboard, screen and camera, which made refurbishing them more expensive than purchasing new ones.
Besides, he said, the machines had proprietary conditions, meaning they had encryptions that only the vendor could replace, thereby placing the EC at its mercy for milking.
For instance, he said, in 2016 when the devices were being made ready for the general election, it was realised that 47 per cent of them were faulty and had to be replaced.
In view of that, Dr Ofori-Adjei said, the new biometric voters registration devices and the data centre which was under construction had made provisions that allowed the EC to update the system to accommodate changes and prevent obsolescence.
In that regard, he said, although every machine and software had its life span, the current system would be robust, with longer warranty periods and life span to prolong the life of the system and safe the EC money.
Dr Ofori-Adjei said the new biometric voters register would introduce the facial recognition feature as an addition to enhance the verification process to reduce manual verification to the barest minimum or completely eliminate it.
The EC said a biometric voters register must not co-exist with a manual verification process.
The EC’s decision to compile a new biometric voters register has generated some brouhaha, with the political parties divided over the move.
The Inter-Party Resistance Against a New Voters Register (IPRAN), which includes the National Democratic Congress (NDC), says it will continue its demonstrations against the move.
The resistance, which has already organised two such actions, has announced the next one in Accra tomorrow, following what it described as its disappointment in the conduct of the EC after deliberations at the Coconut Groove Hotel at the instance of the EC’s Eminent Advisory Committee.
Some civil society groups have also issued a statement, opposing the compilation of a new biometric voters register.
The New Patriotic Party (NPP) and 12 other political parties are strongly backing the compilation of the new register.
Before meeting journalists, the EC had met with members of the Council of State last Friday.
It has also indicated its intention to meet with the former Presidents again.