In this article, we’ll look at biometric identification and the pivotal role it could play in the near future to help secure fair and just elections. We’ll explore the following considerations:
- Secure and fair elections – why they should be the cornerstone of democracy
- A Biometric solution: what is Biometric voter registration
- Examples of successful implementation of BVR across the world
Secure and fair elections – the cornerstone of democracy
For any democracy to be considered legitimate, its citizens must have the opportunity to choose who governs them and how they are governed, by free and fair elections. With almost half the world living in a democracy of some description, ensuring the integrity of elections has become increasingly challenging in the digital age. Cyberattacks and the spread of disinformation have become more prevalent, as well as identity theft and increasing public mistrust in political processes. In many countries, elections are the cause of increased tension that often boils over into violent confrontations as often displayed on the news.
Even long-established democratic systems are not immune from exploitation. In 2020, the world witnessed President Donald Trump promote false claims of electoral fraud following Joe Biden’s win in the presidential election. These claims stoked so much tension among his supporters that ultimately culminated in the January 6th attack on the Capitol that has been called an attack on democracy itself.
A biometric solution: Biometric voter registration
In the last decade, governments worldwide have begun implementing biometric voter registration (BVR) to address some of these challenges. BVR is the process of enrolling people onto a digital voting register using their unique biometric identification characteristics, including iris, face, and fingerprints. Biometric voter authentication then confirms the identity of each individual by comparing their biometrics with a database.
Biometric voting systems drastically reduce vote tampering and voter fraud by ensuring no duplicate votes are counted, and each person is who they say they are creating a fair and just voting system based on true population representation. This system brings many young or flawed democracies closer to achieving voter equality and the principle of one person, one vote.
Examples of successful implementation of BVR across the globe
In 2007, after weeks of mounting tension and political violence, President Iajuddin suspended all political activity, including the January parliamentary elections in Bangladesh. A 17-party alliance had announced a boycott on the grounds that the system was biased. The elections were postponed until December 2008 with the aim of providing a credible voter list for free and fair elections in the meantime. While the task was mammoth and the time frame tight, the project successfully used biometric identification methods to register 80 million voters in a highly accurate voter list, with a verifiable individual ID card and a citizens database.
In 2020, the Ghanaian government procured 75,000 biometric identification devices ahead of the general elections. Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, Jean Mensah said he hoped the new biometric devices would ‘enhance the integrity and credibility of the polls.’ He said,
“It is expected that the enhanced features of the devices will speed up the verification process and go a long way to ensure that only persons whose biometric details are captured in our system vote on election day.”
The introduction of the latest biometric voter registration technology resulted in 17 million Ghanaian voters being registered and the President declaring it the most credible voter register in the country’s history.
In Guinea, enrolling citizens to vote has been complicated in the past, as there is no reliable civil registry and individuals have no way to prove their identity. This has resulted in people registering several times and casting multiple votes. There has been no trustworthy way to authenticate votes. Biometric technology allowed people with little or no documentation to register using their unique characteristics – in less than 4 months 5.5 million people had registered. In Guinea’s March 2020 elections, the system was declared a complete success, and elections were proclaimed as ‘Standard’ by international observers.
In 2020, the Albanian government amended the country’s legal framework, allowing for biometric voter verification to be put in place. They paired biometric voting and authentication to make their elections faster, more reliable, and more transparent. The elections were a great success, cutting down the process from two days to one day. Voters were able to verify their identity through their fingerprints at the polling stations, and the fingerprints were then deduplicated to check for double voting.
These examples (and many other examples worldwide) of successful implementation of biometric identification-based voting solutions would suggest that biometrics are the future of ensuring secure and fair elections.