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EVMs: Gov’t should reconsider

Publishing Date : 16 May, 2017

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In whose interest is the Independent electoral Commission (IEC) procuring Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs)? The answer is in plain sight – Batswana. The citizens are the voters in any given election. Any decision to amend the Electoral Law should have their interests as the foundation.

The proposed procurement of EVMs could have been an attempt to embrace technology and maybe improve our election processes, but by all accounts stakeholders seem not ready for the EVMs. The only two key stakeholders who are holding dear to EVMs are the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and the IEC.

This week we ready in the Guardian newspaper that former President Sir Ketumile Masire has cautioned against EVMs, in fact urging government to dump the idea of machines as of now. The antagonists to the rushed implementation of the EVMs have raised concerns around issues of trust and transparency, verifiability and accountability, reliability and security of the proposed Electronic Voting Machines.

We could not agree more with Sir Ketumile Masire when he says, “In a democracy like ours, elections being to the citizens, not the government and its institutions. Government institutions conduct elections on behalf of the people.” It is evident that a number of areas rejected the Electronic Voting Machines during the post law enactment consultation process by the IEC. They could have rejected the move purely because they were not consulted on the Voting Machines at the initial stage of the process hence they lacked crucial knowledge that could have allowed them a better thought process. Or just that they do not have faith on the Machines, and they want to stick to what they already know.  

Government should not appear to be forcing EVMs on people, the level of suspicion is rising, even from those who initially had no problem with the EVMs being introduced. Botswana is a just a country of 2 million, with registered voters usually around the 800 000 mark, basically they should be no hurry with EVMs. Batswana should first have confidence in the e-voting system or the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) before they can buy into it. It is evident that they trust the current electoral system, because it has worked for them, we have held peaceful elections from 1965 to date. Our view is that government should take baby steps to sell the e-voting system, and not appear to be shoving down our throats.

“Fostering transparent practices is a key element in building public trust and confidence. Transparency about the e-voting system, the details of different electoral procedures and the reasons for introducing e-voting will contribute to voters’ knowledge and understanding, thereby generating trust and confidence among the general public.” We agree with this statement from the organizers (Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organizations (BOCONGO) and Friedrich Ebert Foundation) of a panel discussion to be held next week on the subject of e-voting. The reaction of most Batswana to the EVMs point to a lack of trust and understanding.   

We are also of the view that in a democratic context, an e-voting system must respect and ensure attributes and properties such as transparency, verifiability, accountability, security and accuracy. Only then can it foster and promote the participation of all citizens. “The universal suffrage is a basic principle for democratic elections and the introduction of e-voting and Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) should not compromise or impede on this basic norm.”  

We also agree with Dr Edward Maganu, who writes elsewhere in this paper that: “The introduction of EVMs is certainly the most controversial decision relating to our political processes that has ever been taken by a Botswana Government since independence in 1966. The negative reaction to EVMs has been so widespread that it would be extremely unwise and dangerous for the Government to ignore it.”

It is a fact that the process which decides how people are going to cast their votes is too important to be decided by government alone. The IEC or indeed Government has failed to conduct a robust consultation process with stakeholders such as political parties, civil society organisations, trade unions, and Batswana in general before the law was passed. We are of the view that basics should be done if the implementation of the e-voting system is to find favour with Batswana.



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