Is a Vote Rig-Proof Solution Possible?

The widespread allegations of vote rigging in the recent elections and many others in developing countries is not just a threat to democracy and good governance, but also a total waste of billions of money used to organise the election. On the other hand opposing parties often take advantage of the failures of the Electoral Commissions by sometimes blowing claims out of proportion so to rally the masses behind them. None of the above should be tolerated as each has enormous consequences.

This has been the case in all the Ugandan elections i have witnessed without major improvements to reduce the claimed vote rigging. Whereas the opposition suggested changes to the electoral process that were ignored, am not sure if there were specific solutions suggested specifically on the voting itself as i think focus was on just the electoral process before the voting. But can there be a trusted tamper-proof, and transparent solution to the voting? Building on Stephen Musoke’s suggestion of “An alternative to Legal Independent Tallying”, it is interesting to first understand how rigging is actually done, since independent tallying is always meant to check vote rigging.

Keeping all factors constant, i.e. without disenfranchisement by delaying voting materials as was claimed in last week’s election, voter-buying, intimidation with Mambas, teargas on the streets and of course a few bullet deaths here and there, and now a funny new-one of switching off mobile money so that opposition agents can’t get the much needed transport to go and monitor activities at polling stations, Here are a few widely used rigging techniques.

  1. Altering of Results on the results declaration forms (some agents refuse to sign because they disagree with what is on the form)
  2. Buying off candidate agents to sign changed results on declaration forms. This can also be smartened up so that polling agents and candidate agents agree to tick the remaining ballots in favour of the “Buying” candidate. At my polling station it was polling and candidate agents waiting for voters, it could take around 30 to 60 minutes without a voter showing up which is a very ripe opportunity to deal under the table.
  3. The old-fashioned and infamous ballot stuffing.
  4. Electoral commission announcing different results, well this is hard enough to prove due to the opaque way EC has been operating but it has been claimed by several candidates. I would think if attached or uploaded somewhere, the scanned signed results Declaration forms would give EC a popular benefit of doubt but no they didn’t hence the widespread suspicions.
  5. Declaring final results without those from some polling stations allegedly those of opposition strongholds.
  6. Of course not ruling out possible genuine error during entry into the EC results system, or Ms Excel if it is what they used. This is very likely given the pressure data clerks have to endure. It becomes deliberate if one candidate is always the beneficiary of these “errors” and if they only increase his tally rather than decrease.

So what ready cost effective solution can be used against all the listed and other unknown avenues of rigging? I think it is important and more transparent to work with the UNIT as this removes any suspicious queries and creates a clear fall back incase of anything. The unit here being the Ballot Paper. There are scanners with the Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) feature where over 400 ballot papers can be inserted and scanned at once without having to manually change the ballot papers. If an algorithm is then developed to automatically, digitally sort and count the votes per candidate (yes this is very possible with advances in computer vision) and relay results to the accredited tally centres, including the digital scans, ooops sounds like you need loads and loads of disk space and bandwidth. But pretty much affordable given the importance of a transparent election anyway. So if this is possible, it pretty much takes care of rigging techniques 1, 4, 6 and 5 (because delays in counting are cut-out).

Sounds like buying candidate agents (Number 2) to betray their bosses is the way to go, and it can also accommodate ballot stuffing (Number 3) after all they are already paid. Stuffed ballots, even those sneakingly ticked in favour of the “buying candidate”  can still be scanned and sent and duly counted by the algorithm  proposed above. But we can also beat the big spenders and their billions by using a biometric counter. Am not so sure what the current biometric machines deployed by EC were meant for, but apart from identity, I doubt keeping a count of those who voted was one of the tasks. The same biometric machines if they didn’t already have it, can be programmed to keep a count of those who voted. This then prevents the “rigging agents”, from taking advantage of the many people who don’t show up on voting day for several reasons including the now trending disenfranchisement. The count recorded by the biometric machine can then be verified against that of the total from the algorithm suggested above. Ofcourse as a fall back or plan B incase any hitches occur somewhere, the usual counting can still take place.

There is also the issue of invalid votes, whose alarming percentage increased from the previous election. The developed algorithm needs to be as intelligent enough to consistently sort out invalid vote popularly known as KAFU (Luganda). EU observer reports said a vote counted as invalid at one station, passed as valid at another station. This however is not a solution to the increasing invalid votes. That takes me to think of a whole new user friendly voting machine that combines biometrics and vote counting above, without having to use ballot papers, which also makes me wonder, how do Developed countries vote???.

All in all given the many complex dynamics involved in organising an election, a fully rig-proof might be impossible but a lot can be done to make the experience more transparent, and generally acceptable to avert any suspicions leading violent to reactions. Am saying it is impossible given the very slim possibility that someone can still pay experienced hackers to get the result they want. The important thing is that all stakeholders have confidence in the system well, and the process.

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One response

  1. As an update to this;

    I was in the village last week and i learnt from residents that another way the vote was rigged was a polling agent handing known supporters of a candidate 3 to 10 ballot papers so they tick their candidate. This can also be taken care of by the biometric counter. i.e. if the ballots are more than the number the biometric machine stored, then there was rigging.

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