Tuesday, August 20, 2013

ELECAM: Voting and the Biometric Voter’s Card.

  By Asonganyi Tazoacha

      The Cameroon biometric voters’ cards that have been printed by ELECAM have the following features: Card number; Name of bearer; Date of birth; Father’s name; Mother’s name; Council area; Polling station; Registration number; Residence; Profession; Photograph; Fingerprint; Barcode. 
   This makes the Cameroon biometric voter’s card very similar to those in places like Ghana and Nigeria.     
   The law requires that a voter goes to the polling station with both the voter’s card and the national identity card. 
  The Cameroon national identity card has the following information: Name of bearer; Date and place of birth; Father’s name; Mother’s name; Profession; Place of residence; Height; Sex; Serial number; Identity card number; Date of issue; Expiry date; Photograph; Fingerprint.   
   This means that the voter’s card has the following information that the national identity card does not have: Registration number (number in the electoral register); Council area; Polling station; Barcode. It also means that the most important information needed on Polling Day – name of polling station and the registration number on the electoral role is only available on the voter’s card.  
   There has been some argument on whether or not the national identity card can be enough to allow a registered voter to cast a vote on Polling Day. This is because the electoral code is ambiguous on the issue. But there are more advantages of going to the polling station with the voter’s card than are usually stated.
     Indeed, there are many advantages for coming to the polling station with the voter’s card; such advantages are cancelled out if the voter has only the national identity card. The national identity card alone delays and confuses the electoral process on Polling Day. This is because:
1)      The procedure for voting at the polling station starts with verification that you are in the right polling station. If you belong to the polling station, this is followed by verification of your name in the electoral roll which is recorded in the polling station electoral roll in alphabetical order. Since the pictures in the polling station registers are usually quite small, they are not very reliable for identifying a voter, but the roll in the polling station also has the registration number of the voter, so the number which is only on the voter’s card provides a double check of identity. Following the identification and other routines, the process ends up with the casting of the vote and the signing of the electoral register against the name of the voter.
2)      In spite of many precautionary measures, many voters usually go to the wrong polling station before they are re-directed to their polling stations by polling officials or other voters, if the voter’s card is available for quick verification of their polling stations.
3)      If the voter is literate and bears a voter’s card, they would easily know that they are in the wrong polling station; if they are illiterate, they would have to wait on the line and enter the polling station before they are informed after verification that they cannot vote there.
4)      Both the literate and illiterate voters would not easily reorient themselves to their rightful polling station if they brought along only the national identity card. Indeed, their presence will block the voting process because the polling station officials would have to look for their names on the polling station roll to verify if their names are on it. If the voter’s name is not found, it would be difficult to direct them to their polling stations, since their national identity cards do not have such information.
5)      Counterfeits of the national identity card can be made and successfully used, like in the past, but a counterfeit of the voter’s card would easily be detected because of the many identity accessories on the card.
6)      In general, if every voter had their voter’s card, the voting process would be smooth and fast; those with only the national identity card would slow down the process. Such slowing down of the process may cause the voting to go into the night if there is still a long line by the time the polling officials have to close the poll. This means that the counting process may be bedeviled by darkness which is common in areas that do not have electricity, or that are deprived of electricity by the regular outages of AES-SONEL.
    The electoral code is ambiguous on the role played by the national identity card on Polling Day. However, the national identity card is a double check on the voter’s identity, and the voter’s card in addition to identifying the voter, facilitates the identification of the polling station.   In general, although we have the biometric electoral cards, there is no doubt that champions of electoral fraud are scheming to use well known methods used in the past in Cameroon and in other countries with biometric cards, to turn the verdict of the ballot box to their advantage. These include:
1)      Using violence to disrupt activities at the polling station at the close of the polls.
2)      Buying or renting of the biometric voter’s cards from poor voters to use fraudulently.
3)      Since most people in the townships returned to their villages of origin to register, the frauds are collecting the biometric cards from those who will be unable to travel to the village to vote on Polling Day, to use the cards fraudulently.
4)      Such notorious frauds usually get the ballot papers of the party of their interest – by hook or by crook - and stamp and fingerprint them before Polling Day! They then use all types of fraudulent tactics – including violence - to introduce the ballot papers in the various polling boxes. If ex-convicts can succeed – with impunity - to establish a “criminal record (Bulletin No. 3), not more than three months old” and “a declaration” by which they testify on honour that they are not the “object of any of the disqualifications provided for by this law,” what more of buying voters’ cards and obtaining the ballot papers of their parties to use fraudulently?
5)      In the past, towards the end of the voting process, some polling station officials asked “voters” loitering around the polling station to collect any card from the pile of uncollected cards at the polling station to cast a vote. They then randomly marked and signed the electoral register to ensure that the marked voters on the voters’ roll tallied with the number of votes cast!
6)      In the past some presidents of the polling station commissions decreed that the counting would be done at the DO’s or SDO’s office, where the administrative officials took the ballot boxes hostage, and prevented some polling commissioners from entering their “premises.” We hope the advent of ELECAM puts a stop to such exploits.
7)      ELECAM representatives at polling stations and other sensitive areas in the electoral chain may be poor and easily corruptible, like was the case with NEO officials in the past.  Thus, some polling station result sheets could be manipulated along the chain; and since ELECAM’s copies are considered “authentic,” this could cause a lot of confusion and injustice.

  ELECAM has issued biometric voters’ cards that meet international standards. Whether these cards will contribute to delivering a free, fair and credible electoral process on Polling Day will depend, above all, on the vigilance and integrity of the polling station officials, especially the representatives of ELECAM.

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