- A hurried introduction of an election system of any sort will always end in major problems for democratic processes.
Across the world, almost all Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) are utilising technology in order to ensure they can conduct better elections, using a number of election-related software and hardware.
With the development of technology, there are now systems to cover the whole continuum from voter register to a full integrated e-voting system.
Like any new digital technology’s deployment, however, usage of systems on election day comes with advantages but also a lot of risks and challenges; a situation which arouses the concern of all the key stakeholders.
Electoral technologies are available for a number of areas; including back-office automation, online database management systems (especially compilation of voters roll), sophisticated results processing tools, reliable and secure connectivity to transmit electoral results, biometric systems, personnel management systems, voter education, managing elections material logistics, geographical information systems which manage electoral boundaries, optical scanning as well as e-voting.
These electoral technologies usually bring operational efficiency, cost reduction and more importantly enhance confidence and trust in the electoral process.
A list of issues can affect the smooth running of elections that are heavily dependent on new digital technologies; cybersecurity risks, increase in vote rigging using electronic means, hacking and challenges with election results auditing all come to mind.
In an age where misinformation, disinformation and fake news is the order of the day, any information vacuum on the part of EMBs in deploying election technology will lead to a high risk of lack of confidence and mistrust in the electoral process.
It is, therefore, imperative that the deployment of digital technologies in elections is implemented in a timely and appropriate manner so as not to provide ammunition for losers to question the outcome.
Standards are key to the success of any digital technologies deployment.
They are even more critical for digital technologies used in elections.
A lack of investment in standards will cause data and other system integrity issues, , therefore, putting in place a continuous process, aiming for excellence, creating space for rigorous testing and re-testing are all important.
Documented risk mitigation plans
ACE Electoral Knowledge Network aptly provides a key recommendation on how electoral management bodies can go about implementing technology: “Careful consideration needs to be given to the risks of inappropriate or untimely introduction of technology, especially if it has the potential to compromise transparency, local ownership or sustainability of the electoral process”.
Whereas a brand new electoral technology system is always welcome and can be a game changer, we cannot go in blindly with the notion that a new system is a risk-free magic bullet.
The gains can only be realised with good preparation, careful planning coupled with dynamic risk mitigation plans.
A hurried introduction of an election system of any sort will always end in major problems for democratic processes.
Which is why it is an issue of concern being widely debated about the current attempts by Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC) to introduce a major technology in an election year.
If the EC is planning to go ahead with its plans, the balance of scales between major disasters and an acceptable margin of error will be down to a risk management model that is infused with a high degree of flexibility.
The recommendation for the EC was to have introduced the technology last year, then used the opportunities offered by the recently held referendum on the creation of new regions and district assembly elections to test it and take corrective action to make it better ahead of the general elections.
Clearly, the EC lost this opportunity. Citizens, political parties, electoral candidates and elections observers both local and international must make it a priority to demand that the EC clearly communicates how it plans to mitigate these risks which comes with deployment of a complex new digital technology such as the one being proposed.
The success or otherwise of Ghana’s 2020 election depends on how the EC plans to ensure that its proposed technology works seamlessly.
In conclusion, the use of digital technologies in the democratic process as a whole and in an election, in particular, has far-reaching repercussions, therefore, key actors in the space must work assiduously to manage deployment and derive maximum benefits, while reducing its negative impact.
The writer is a Technology Innovation Consultant,