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Electronic voting: Opposition smells “Big Rat”

Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Executive Secretary, Gabriel Seeletso has revealed that the Electoral Commission is only currently awaiting changes to the law by parliament, to effect electronic voting. But the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) say they smell a “big rat”.

Currently, according to Seeletso, a bill to enact electronic voting is being debated in parliament and if it comes to pass, IEC will develop an implementation plan that will include broad consultation with stakeholders.

Contrary to his claims, WeekendPost has learnt that a notice to table the bill was swiftly pushed through on a certificate of urgency a fortnight ago in parliament by Minister of Public Administration and Public Affairs (MOPAPA), Eric Molale and it is to be formally tabled and debated anytime soon.

Seeletso said he is however alive to the fact that any kind of reform will be met with some form of opposition. “We are alive to the fact that any type of reform has to pay a prize of resistance,” he said.

He stressed that the first point of call will be consultation which will start with IEC staffers and cascade down to the public. The law, if enacted, will render civic and voter education on electronic voting a legal obligation of IEC.

He further said that afterwards processes of budgeting and procurement of the electronic voting gadgets will follow and a tender will be released which will either be a public or single service tender.

He further clarified that once it has been approved, IEC will first acquire prototypes to give the nation a “touch and feel opportunity”.

He also said that different political parties will also be engaged in all the critical steps.

Voting machines from Barhat Electronics Limited (BEL); an Indian company were trialled on Wednesday by journalists and politicians. They record the time that polling started and closed and machine serial number. Before the start of ballot casting, they indicate whether any ballot has been mischievously punched in before time, and also show the number of candidates contending for a particular position.

If a ballot is cast by mistake for an unintended candidate, it can be taken back and given the intended candidate. If a voter is stuck inside the booth, confused and not knowing how to proceed, the machine will beep to alert the voting officer.

Each gadget also verifies the election results for a particular polling station and calculates the winning votes in no time.

Also, if polling is closed, the machine will not enable any further voting and will beep and its red neons flare up if tampered with.

The machine’s micro-controllers are said to be totally hardwired into it, with no susceptibility to hacks. In fact, it is said that if one should try to tamper with them, they will no longer work.

If the batteries die, the voting data punched inside will remain intact, until wilfully removed. The data can remain inside even if the election results are being disputed before the courts. BEL officials said that in India, the machines have in one instance preserved data for a period of 5 years in custody.

They are also said to be so accurate that they have the capability tell which voter has voted for which candidate.

According to Seeletso spoilt votes and election night vigils will also be a thing of the past once electronic voting is in use.

“Instead of all the verification process that we used to endure, it will verify the votes in terms of how many numbers voted, leaving no room for spoilt votes, error, and show the winning candidate,” said Seeletso.

He further said that, “the machines are merely a replacement of the paper process, with no hazardous magnetic fields and as user friendly as a mobile phone.”

Seeletso further said that not much will change in terms of voting hall rules. He said that if the machine has a problem, the presiding officer will inform the returning officer, who will in turn inform the secretary of the IEC. The IEC would then issue a second set of machines to the bogged voting station, and the voting station will then duly compensate for lost time.

Seeletso also said that IEC will try as much as possible to have political parties insert their own serial numbers with which they can identify voting machines with, beyond each machine having its own serialised tag.

He revealed that the electronic voting equipment and related paraphernalia will cost in the region of P100 million. Defending the multimillion-Pula cost, Seeletso said that, the machines will replace the verification officers who ordinarily are senior employees whose overtime payments far exceed other election time staff.

He also said that the machines are reusable and a once off purchase which will save taxpayers millions of Pula as running an election ordinarily costs a fortune; in the region of P120million.
Seeletso also said that if the law is passed they will most likely use Barhat Electronics Limited machines and that whichever company gets the tender will also have to provide technical support.

They will also be calibrated before the election starts, a process in which political parties will be involved.

BEL has used their machines to run elections in Namibia, India, Butan and Nepal.

Seeletso also revealed that IEC intends to enforce its rules which stipulate that a single polling station must service 500 voters, in a bid to stem voter apathy, resulting from winding queues. He also said that even though a single machine has the capability to run multiple elections they will however stick to a single machine for a single voting station.

However, Botswana Congress Party Youth League (BCPYL), President Tumiso Chillyboy Rakgare said that they, “have lots and lots of suspicions with electronic voting”. He further said that the fact that IEC’s ties to the Office of the President remain un-severed, the independence of the Commission still remains suspect.

He further said that there are many gaps with the machines to allow for election rigging and there is no how opposition parties can verify the safety of their votes in an election. “You can see that it is a way of stealing a mandate and they are trying all the tricks in the book to steal elections in 2019,”Rakgare said.

Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), Vice President, Wynter Mmolotsi however said that they are still stunned at how the electronic voting bill was sprung upon unsuspecting legislators and the events preceding. Mmolotsi said that his party was surprised at the politicking antics of Eric Molale in the Goodhope-Mabule constituency at a time when the area legislator is ill.

He further said that it is surprising that only a week after his campaigns, Molale asked parliament to allow him to present the electronic voting bill on a certificate of urgency, immediately asking for a vote to settle the matter. It is believed that the bill is currently being cobbled up and Molale is expected to table it soon.

Botswana National Front (BNF) Secretary General, Moeti Mohwasa also said that they are surprised at the, “supersonic speed at which the electronic voting development is proceeding without consultation”.

Mohwasa also revealed that BNF is looking into allegations that government has independently engaged an independent consultant to link up and manipulate the electronic voting machines remotely.

Meanwhile, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary for Political Education and Elections Committee, Kabo Morwaeng said that even though he has not yet reported back to his party, he is personally impressed with the machines.

Morwaeng said that if all should go as presented, electronic voting will cut all the paperwork, storage and transportation costs among others. He said that it will also enhance democracy by doing away with spoilt votes and helping the illiterate citizens to exercise their democratic right in their privacy.

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