Biometrics in elections, a global trend

A trustworthy electoral roll is one of the first steps to hold a legitimate election. That is why governments the world over are turning into biometric technology to modernize their elections.

According to a study titled Biometrics in Elections, which was conducted by Ole Holtved for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), biometrics can be used for two main purposes:

  • De-duplication or registries. i.e. finding multiple occurrences of the same person in a register; and
  • Identification, e.g. in access control systems, for logging in on a computer, or for identifying a voter in a polling station on election day.
fingertip

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Voter impersonation is as old and as pervasive as elections themselves. Fortunately, fingerprinting, the type of biometrics being used most commonly to deter this kind of fraud, is yielding positive results. Through their fingerprints, voters can be easily and unequivocally identified before proceeding to cast a ballot.

It is important to note that when taken a step further, by completely automating the entire election (including electronic voting), impersonation can be eliminated altogether.

Brazil, a historical frontrunner in the adoption of voting technology, was already authenticating some of its voters before casting a ballot in three important cities as early as 2008. After slowly incorporating more cities to this practice, they are expecting to use biometric identification nationwide by 2018.

In 2009, Bolivia conducted the fastest registration project known to date. A total of 5 million citizens were registered in only 75 Days, increasing the reliability of the National Electoral Register and the overall transparency of the elections that ensued. The biometric roll was a key contributor to the transparency to the elections that ensued.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) -UN’s global development network- helped Zambia developing a biometric electoral roll in 2010. The national registry created was first used during the 2011 tripartite elections, and saw an increase of 40% in the number of Zambians enfranchised to vote.

Venezuela, nowadays a worldwide reference in election automation, holds an important record. It is the first nation to have successfully conducted a fully-secured election involved voter identity verification using biometrics. It was during the October 7, 2012 presidential elections.

Given the positive results, more nations are moving to adopt this solution to the authentication of the voters. Colombia, and Ecuador are making important progress in this regard. And in 2013, some new voter authentication projects were carried in Kenya, Mali, Cameroon, and Togo with varying degrees of success.

Biometrics is definitely facilitating the work of election administrators all over the world. Election transparency, a long time public outcry is now at the fingertips of the voters.

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