IEC uses technology to ensure transparency

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The technology the Independent Electoral Commission has employed for the 2009 General Elections will ensure transparency, writes Chris Bathembu.

Many countries in Africa still rely on traditional ways of conducting elections, a method which is arguably open to vote rigging. However, the IEC's use of intensive technology has clearly been motivated by its determination to achieve a high level of transparency.

This is especially important given the fierce contestation of this year's elections.

The Results Operation Centre which opened in Pretoria last week will serve as the central management point for operational and electoral issues and a focal point for political parties, government, business leaders and the media to gather during the voting, counting and results phases of the elections.

It will give the media, election observers and political party representatives' access to the latest information as it comes from the polling stations.

The centre will be open from 7am on Election Day until late in the evening of 23 April, when it is expected that the majority of election results will be in.

Journalists covering the elections will also be able to access the latest information from all polling stations around the country by using pre-programmed computers provided by the IEC.

Reporters will also receive figures such as the turnout at all stations, the number of spoilt ballots and will have the luxury of watching the results as they come in from different polling stations on a large screen in front of the hall.

"This centre reinforces our commitment as the IEC to have a transparent and open process of result counting and verification," said Advocate Pansy Tlakula, Chief Electoral Officer of the IEC recently.

"It is our belief that we can only have free and fair elections if our processes are transparent. We did everything possible to safeguard the freeness and fairness of these elections," said Ms Tlakula.

IEC activities at the Results Operation Centre in Pretoria include a results system technical help desk, a results problem-resolution authority, an electoral operations 'nerve centre', an extensive information technology division and a geographic information system group that will prepare interactive, map-based graphics displays for large projection screens, for the media and for dissemination via the IEC intranet to provincial operations centres.

Results operations centres have also been established in all nine provinces, serving the same purpose on a provincial level as the Results Operations Centre does in Pretoria.

IEC chairperson, Dr Brigalia Bam said: "We view this unique centre as a hub of social cohesion or nerve centre wherein all role-players assemble at each national election so as to collaborate in this important national project on elections."

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo visited the centre on Monday and said he was impressed with the technology.

Mr Obasanjo is part of the 333 international observers who will be overseeing the upcoming presidential and legislative elections to ensure a free and fair poll.

The IEC will also be using the new zip-zip scanner for the first time on Wednesday to ensure the process of monitoring the results runs smoothly.

Officials will be able to verify the eligibility to vote of any person arriving at a polling station as well as check the voting districts where they are registered to vote.

The scanner will also be helpful in research as the IEC will be able to download voter information such as gender, age groups, where the most people voted, when the peak voting times were and more.

Other security items to be used include security seals, tapes and indelible ink at voting stations.

The use of scanned results slip will also allow captured results to be verified against source documents, making it impossible for results to be displayed at the centre before having been verified by independent auditors.

Auditors will also check the results captured on the results system to ensure these are the same as those on the original results slip, making sure there is not much room for errors.

During the 2008 elections in the United States, presidential candidate Barack Obama stressed the importance of using technology to keep citizens involved and informed of the election process.

He said it is technology that ensures a transparent and clean government.