USE OF IT IN ELECTIONS
Mohammad Aqil Azad
Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA)
The recent developments in technology have wide-ranging effects in the conduct of elections. Governments have adopted database systems into the electoral processes in order to use its main advantages such as storing voters’ and candidates’ information. However, the broader use of information technology has always been an effort and a challenge for governments around the world. E-E-voting has now been introduced and used in both public and private electoral administration (IDEA, 2008).
Election is still quite a young concept for the people of Afghanistan, as it was only introduced again to the system in 2004 at a national level, therefore challenges were met and are still trying to be addressed. The use of Information Technology (I.T) was one of the solutions employed or is being considered to address the challenges.
The very first I.T-related activity launched by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) was the development of a Website to broaden the public information outreach about electoral activities. Continuing the efforts and in cooperation with the International Community, IEC established the email system and a computer network for better intra-communication. Furthermore, the national tallying center is now equipped with a database which helps IEC efficiently tally the votes. All the systems are undergoes continuing improvement for succeeding elections. In the most recent elections in 2014, an online GIS was used to display the locations of the polling centers.
Currently database systems are used for maintaining voters’ information, candidates’ specifications, candidates’ votes, and polling stations statistics. The website of the IEC and its Facebook pages are regularly updated to keep people informed. Unfortunately several flaws exists in maintaining these information. IEC does not have an integrated information system which could be used as a central source for all the units and teams within the commission. This was a major issue in generating the voters list for the polling stations. The tallying center does not provide a mechanism which can facilitate observers group to observe the process.
Also, Afghanistan’s election stakeholders are not equipped with updated technology tools. The country does not use voting machines that are nowadays considered to be effective in preventing fraud. One national tallying center in the central commission office makes the process of tallying and announcing the election results. Mobile applications, which can assist EMB to effectively implement electoral programs and administer the processes, are still not widely used in Afghanistan. CSOs involved in democratic processes are limited in using email and mobile phones for their communications.
The ultimate test of any electoral process is the confidence and acceptance of the electorate and political competitors that will provide a fair and accurate result (IDEA, 2008). In order for the EMB to achieve this goal, introduction of new IT tools is necessary. As recommended by CSOs and SERC, the idea of e-Tazkera which enhances the use of an electronic voting system will enable them to maximize the usage of information technology.
So far, the current I.T. Tools being used in Afghanistan are listed below, based on a survey conducted among some CSOs and EMB officers:
List of information technology tools being used by EMB and CSOs:
|IT Tool||Organizations/ Institutions using them||Advantages / High Cost Disadvantages||Other remarks|
|Database System and spreadsheet applications||
IEC, IECC, CSOs
● Ease in Management
● Needs to train and develop professional staff manage, administer, and maintain
|These database systems are used for storing Voters’ names, candidates’ information, Polling Centers, Complaints, and Observation data. Using these databases the stakeholders can easily manage their data and generate analytical and statistical reports.
IEC broadly uses the database system for storing candidates and voters’ information. The institution makes use of database in tallying votes too.
|Website and Social Media
|IEC, IECC, CSOs||Advantages:
● Fast and efficient method to disseminate information
● Unfamiliarity in using the website
● Unavailability of internet in rural areas
|Presentation Applications and Projectors||IEC,IECC, CSOs||Advantages:
● By using these applications it is easier to manage the capacity building trainings
|The software facilitate presenting ideas for the audience|
|Network devices||IEC, IECC, CSOs||Advantages:
● Fast processing
● Lack of human resources and capacity
|These devices such as Computers, Printers, PBX Phones and Scanners facilitates day to day works.|
|MIS System, Reporting system||
● Ease of Management
|For Election Monitoring|
|E-mail, Instant Messaging, and Skype||IEC, IECC, CSOs||Advantages
Email is the most cost-effective way to communicating especially when sending communication to those who are miles away. It can contain important attachments
A disadvantage of email is that people tend to treat it like a conversation because email can happen so quickly and they begin to use slang terms and try to carry on conversations via email. Because email recipients cannot see each other, the emails do not have any voice inflection or emotion that can help with proper interpretation.
|Cloud: Dropbox||CSOs||For Data sharing|
Future I.T. Tools to consider
- Case Management System (CMS) to register and track all the cases reported to IEC or IECC. CMS should be connected with the Ministry to Justice to aid in tracking the background of candidates
- Computerization of the entire process to do away with use of papers
- Identify and review existing IT tools being used in elections.
- Develop guidelines to evaluate, select, and eventually adopt and implement new I.T. tools to improve the electoral process.
- Provide examples of so-called best practices in the use of technology as well as examples where technology has not lived up to expectations.
- Examine some of the emerging technologies and trends to identify those that may apply to Afghanistan’s electoral process in the near future.