View Full Version : Biometrics Without Verification Is A Meaningless Exercise

12th August 2011, 11:35 AM
Ghana is almost certainly gearing towards a revision of our votersí registration and the Electoral Commission has been mandated and resourced to introduce biometric registration in the last quarter of the year.

The fact that our current votersí register has outlived its usefulness is well known and agreed upon by many political analysts. The fact also that the government has allocated GHC50 million to the Electoral Commission to implement biometric registration is also equally know.

What is however uncertain is the kind of biometric technology the Electoral Commission is buying into and whether the biometric register that will be created will be able to stop multiple voting. Biometric verification is any means by which a person can be uniquely identified by the evaluation of a biological trait such as fingerprints, hand geometry, earlobe geometry, retina and iris patterns, voice waves, DNA or signatures. Almost certainly, the Electoral Commission will be using the finger prints trait which is the oldest form of biometric verification. In its simple from biometric in verification mode means biometric data, is stored on a smart card allowing for almost instantaneous personal identification. These are already employed in some bank automatic teller machines allowing for recognition of cards so that people cannot exceed their withdrawal limit.


In a country called Ghana alone our Electoral Commission has gone to buy and antiquated biometric technology that cannot capture verification. This means even if you register biometrically and you try to use the card to vote more than once with the same biological traits (fingerprints) the system cannot verify that you have voted already. If this is the case then, the question is why should we bother to change the existing system?

No matter what biometric methodology is used, the identification verification process remains the most crucial. The purpose of a biometric registration is that a record of a person's unique characteristic is captured and kept in a database. Later on, when identification verification is required, a new record is captured and compared with the previous record in the database. If the data in the new record matches that in the database record, the person's identity is confirmed. And if this confirmation is to stop a person from voting twice, then the second attempt is rejected.

The Gambia Biometric Identification System (GAMBIS) allowed for the issuance of Gambiaís first biometric identity documents in July 2009. An individualís data, including their biometric information (thumbprints) is captured in the database. A National Identification Number (NIN), unique to each applicant applying for a card, is issued to the applicant. Biometric documents issued for Gambia include national identity cards, residential permits, non-Gambian ID cards and driver licenses.

The use of modern technology such as the introduction of biometric registration raises a well founded anxiety for political parties in the sense that it has been used in many elections in Africa but voter fraud has not been prevented. It was used in Nigeria and Ivory Coast but the jury is still out as to its effectiveness as a weapon against multiple or minorsí voting. So it is important that all political parties get to meet to ask questions as to how we can prevent the pitfalls in this exercise. Already we have heard that the biometric system Ghana is adopting does not include a means of verifying if a person votes more than once. Without verification, how can a register be truly biometric? IPACís unwillingness to call the interĖparty meeting can only fuel the frustration of the political parties into thinking that it is in bed with the government to surprise voters. There are genuine questions that could be raised at such a meeting

Then comes the big issue of the implementation process. Information filtering through from the Electoral Commission indicates that they intend to start the piloting of the biometric registration in Ashanti Region because it is the most populous region. The purpose of sampling is to provide various types of statistical information of a qualitative or quantitative nature about the whole by examining the few rather than the many. If population is being used then the region with the least population rather than the largest could be used for the sampling. It is cheaper, quicker and we can assess the impact of the exercise quicker. It makes no research sense for the Electoral Commission to experiment with the region with the highest population except to remind us about the year 2000 where after the photo identification card had been introduced in some parts of the country, the Electoral Commission inexplicably stopped the process and in many places in the Volta Region, people voted without photo IDs.

I have a deep sense of foreboding that such could be the devil that could befall the biometric registration. The National Census was done in a piecemeal manner, and so were the National Identification exercise and incredibly the District Assembly Election, all under the Mills-Mahama administration. What is to convince me that he biometric registration will be smooth? Dr. Afari Gyan and his team at EC are giving me a genuine cause to believe that it is going to fail. This is my second time of asking. What is the response from the EC on these matters arising?

Source: Kwesi Atta-Krufi Hayford