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Anomalies in BVD system threatening integrity of 2020 Polls: Deaconess Jean Mensa must answer

Mon, 5 Oct 2020 Source: Anthony Obeng Afrane

Given the myriad of challenges and conflicts during elections in most parts of the continent of Africa, there have been the need to search for a remedy to these disturbing trends, and technology has offered a great amount of solutions in the administration and management of elections.

For instance, before 2000, Ghana used opaque ballot boxes for its presidential and parliamentary elections, but there were reports of ballot stuffing and other electoral malpractices, and these necessitated some electoral reforms to ensure transparency, fairness and credibility of polls. As part of the reforms, Ghana employed the use of biometric technology, which uses individuals’ unique physical characteristics to verify and identify them, and this has been applied in the registration, authentication, and identifications of voters in the election process.

Since the inception of this technology, Ghana has successfully had five presidential and parliamentary elections without any major hitch. These elections witnessed the changing of three incumbent government in 2000, 2008 and 2016.

In the new electoral system, before a person is handed the ballot paper, he or she must have gone through biometric identification process, which involves placing their finger on a biometric verification device (BVD). If it fails to recognise the details of the voter, there is room for a manual process after the party officials and EC are satisfied with the processes. A form is filled for those whose details were verified manually, and at the end of the day, the number of those who were verified manually, usually infinitesimal are added to those who went through the biometric system to have the total number of verified voters. This process reduced fraudulent behaviours such as multiple voting and voting by unqualified persons.

But this is about to change in 2020, the new biometric system going to be deployed by Jean Mensa's Electoral Commission permits an electoral officer to use his discretion to opt for verification by fingerprint or by face or by manual. In this case, the system can be easily manipulated through manual verification, rendering useless the expensive BVDs that were purchased at the expense of the taxpayer.

Another shocking thing is that, no forms are going to be filled for the manual verification. Isn't it disturbing that about 80% of registrants at the just-ended voters' register exhibition didn't go through biometric verification, but were verified manually?

In fact, the purpose of the biometric system is to reduce manual verification to the barest minimum, so what is the use of the BVDs if voters can be verified manually as a normal alternative and not a last resort?

The danger here is that a compromised electoral officer can illegitimately verify unqualified voters to vote in place of legitimate voters. This means that a genuinely registered voter could go to a polling station only to be told he or she has already voted. This is serious and could cause chaos on Election Day.

Verification by manual means is supposed to be the last-gasp when the biometric system fails to identify the fingerprint of a voter. Do you remember the NPPs slogan, "No verification, no vote," in 2000? It is to cure such situations that the EC went in for an entire new register so that a facial recognition device would be added, which means that if the fingerprint fails, the facial recognition system will work, of course unless the voter going to vote has his or her head chop off which is impossible.

It has been rumoured that the new BVDs have SIM card ports and wifi systems which could enable the manipulation of electoral data by remote control. Information is also rife that two sets of BVDs were procured by the EC, and that, one set intended to be deployed in the strongholds of the ruling NPP could be reset by erasing all data to zero without the ability to restore the old data erased. It is believed that through this, multiple voting would be done. It is also alleged that the other set is made up of faulty BVDs which the EC would be deploying in the strongholds of the opposition NDC to reduce votes.

Such allegations are not something new, anyway. It would be recalled that on Friday, 18th November, 2016, the then Acting General Secretary of the NPP, John Boadu, addressing a press conference in Tamale, said that his party will not tolerate the deliberate attempt by the Electoral Commission to present faulty biometric machines in its strong holds on Election Day. Will it, therefore, be fair for the NDC to tolerate same on Election Day on December 7, 2020? Hell. No!

It was heartwarming to hear the chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Jean Mensa, say that as a Christian, she will stick to the values of fairness, to ensure a credible and transparent election on December 7.

“I also have a duty to God and to our country to be an agent of peace. As the head of the Electoral Commission, the signals I send out, be it to our staff, or the public is important as it would have an impact on the election and our nation,” she said.

I want to believe what my Christian sister has said; my only worry is that the signals she is sending out are lending credence to the suspicion that she was appointed to ensure that President Akufo-Addo and the NPP retain power at all costs, which will have negative impact on the election and our nation.

If I am wrong, could Mrs. Jean Mensa explain why about 80% of exhibition centres in the recently ended exhibition exercise did not have Biometric Verification Devices even though she said about 77,000 BVDs meant to be deployed at all polling centres have been procured? Has this shortcoming got to do with the rumour that mass manual verification of voters would be done on Election Day to encourage electoral manipulations?

Before she answers those questions, I want her in a sober meditation, be guided by the following scripture in Galatians 6:7-8, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."

Columnist: Anthony Obeng Afrane

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