Elections cannot be halted permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is causing deaths and inevitable shutdowns. Alternative methods of holding elections must be found by decision-makers. Internet voting has been used in wealthy nations, including Estonia, the UK, and the USA. Electronic voting can ensure both the health of the electorate and electoral integrity. However, most nations in Africa conduct frequent manual elections. For Africa to take advantage of this, an effective enabling environment and the use of ICTs are particularly important.
Electronic voting may include direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, optical mark reader (OMR) solutions, electronic ballot printers (EBP) and internet voting. This varies by country. Namibia, for example, is using electronic voting machines in polling places, but few use internet voting for elections. Due to numerous challenges, several nations have tried electronic approaches but given up. What types of internet voting are there and how beneficial or detrimental are these?
Remote internet voting, kiosk internet voting, polling place internet voting, precinct internet voting, and telephone/mobile/voice over internet protocol (VOIP) are the different types of internet voting. Remote internet voting is convenient and accessible for voters who have Internet access at home, work, or abroad; it also allows for flexible voting times for voters; ballot errors are flagged; it is less expensive than traditional methods, with the potential to improve electoral efficiency; and it eliminates long lines and instant absentee ballots. However, it has some disadvantages which include the misuse of a Voter’s identity card (ID) and personal information for voting by others without the knowledge of the voter; some voters may have limited access to the internet or a lack of understanding; hackers or viruses can attack the systems and alter election results; and there can be technical difficulties, programming errors, or server malfunctions.
The kiosk internet voting also has its pros and cons. It has the potential to help address the voting needs of certain groups of voters (persons with disabilities, single parents, etc); it enhances electoral efficiency; it is faster and produces more accurate election results. Some of its shortcomings include the cost of the machines used; the software may sometimes be unreliable; and in the case of a power outage, no alternate method is available.
The polling place internet voting, like the other types, has its strengths and weaknesses. This type of internet voting eliminates mismarked or spoiled ballots and other invalid results; it provides assistive devices to improve accessibility for voters with disabilities; is faster and gives more accurate election results; and the font size and screen language can both be modified. As some of its weaknesses, auditing and recounts can be questioned if there is no paper trail, voters may leave the voting screen before the ballot is officially cast, there is little advantage for voters in terms of convenience, and the machine updating could be an issue and be costly.
The precinct internet voting also eliminates mismarked or spoiled ballots and other invalid results. It has programmable machines to dispense ballots for any election, and it removes authentication questions so that voter identification is most similar to the traditional process. However, the software can sometimes be unreliable; a voter may leave a voting screen before the ballot has been officially cast; and machine updating could also be costly.
Last but not least, the Telephone/Mobile/Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) gives convenience and accessibility for voters who have phones or mobile devices; and for certain groups of voters (persons with disabilities, military, single parents, etc, it has flexible voting time for voters, less costly, has a potential increase in voter turnout and it there is an enhanced electoral efficiency. However, some of its weaknesses are that at, others present may pressure voters to vote a certain way, possibility of telephone/mobile lines overloading or phone service interruption and there can be inaccuracies on the voter’s list could result in one voter receiving a card intended for another voter.
Now that we know the types of e-voting and the pros and cons of it, what conditions must be met for e-Voting to be a reality in Africa?
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