Biometrics for Voter Registration

Posted by Adam Parker on 30 August 2019

When it comes to the concept of a free and democratic society, the election process and its legitimacy is at the base of everything. Not surprisingly, many countries are still finding themselves confronted with difficulties in registering and authenticating voters. Elections are still cause for tension in many places where demonstrations, confrontations, and violence are sadly the outcome.

Polling station

Over the past 10 years, in an attempt to address these complex electoral challenges, Biometric Voter Registration has increased in much of the developing world such as Africa and Latin America. In fact, approximately 50% of Countries in these two regions have adopted this technology for elections.  

Below is a brief overview of five things to know about Biometric Voter Registration and its impact on the social and economic environment in which they are present:   

 

Biometric Registration

The most commonly used biometric modalities when it comes to voter registration systems are fingerprints and facial features.

One of the biggest misconceptions about biometric enrolment is that systems simply have an image of your face, eye, finger, etc. which is not the case with the sophisticated systems required for voter registration. Alternatively, biometric data is originally captured as an image and then converted into a binary template to be stored in a database. When paired with other information such as name and birthdate, a reliable voter profile is constructed. Once this profile is created, it can be stored to a voter identification card to increase accuracy even further.

 

Countries Using Biometric Voter Registration

According to International IDEA’s ICT’s in Elections Database as of 2016, 35 percent of over 130 surveyed electoral management body’s were capturing biometrics as part of the voter registration process, mainly in Africa and Latin America. Having said this, much of this is manual verification as only 9 percent of the surveyed countries were leveraging computers to verify voter identity.

 

Rejection of Biometric Voter Registration

In certain nations, there has been a push back against this technology because of the belief that it infringes on different cultural beliefs and traditions.

In Papua New Guinea for example, the electoral system is broken and subject to abuse. The simple concept of an identity card would seriously improve the accuracy of the system and overall confidence in the electoral process, but there are still rumors and beliefs about whether malevolent sorcery is involved with the collection of very basic biometric data. Some countries try to combat this by reserving seats for religious sectors within their election councils.   

 

Biometric Voter Registration Requires External Support

Given the time and complexity required with setting up a BVR database, many countries require external partners and private companies to assist with the process. The issue with this lies when the fact that there are questions as to whether the protection of voter data should be trusted with a third party. When implementing biometric voting systems, the electoral body must consider how to best protect this information when deciding who to partner with and bring in for support.

 

The Use of Biometric Voter Registration is not always the Answer

Prior to BVR systems being implemented, there are many key considerations that electoral committees must make. In certain cases, cheaper, less complex databases, computers, and technology that only use biographical information such as birth dates and addresses are equally as good. The main thing that has to be determined is whether or not the implementation of a BVR system is worth the cost, time, and energy it takes versus the electoral process improvement.

Topics: Authentication, Biometrics