Electronic voting is costly as it requires capital spending not only to be set up but also for maintenance and equipment updates every few years. The cost of technology can be prohibitive, and this has been a major concern for African countries’ Independent Electoral Commissions (IEC). Aside from the cost of e-voting tools, raising public and voter awareness and providing widespread information, guidelines, and instructions also requires a substantial amount of spending and oversight. A study analysing the cost-benefit of e-voting operations in Sub-Saharan Africa concluded that: “With the advent of the electronic voting system, there is a significant reduction or total elimination of spoilt ballot papers as the voting system can warn about or detect invalid votes”. […]. Although e-voting is costly in the short term, it is profitable in the long term. There are significant long-term cost savings in poll staff time and energy, as well as cost savings in the production, distribution, and management of ballot papers.
Another condition to be satisfied is reducing political skepticism, electoral fraud, and post-electoral violence. African governments are yet to explore e-voting solutions for diaspora citizens to continue exercising their democratic voting rights during elections. Aside from politicians’ unwillingness to explore e-voting solutions for diaspora citizens, the sincerity of the vote is often questioned. Voter intimidation, voter fraud, vote-buying, and other criminal infractions are relayed by opposition political parties. Such contestation has caused conflicts in the past. However, with e-voting, it is possible to guarantee the recording of votes in a framework that favours the freedom of the voter. The transport of the votes through a computerised network to a data storage centre can be reinforced thanks to "blockchain" technology. This makes the vote count more credible, especially when the results are announced only a few hours after the polls close. All these elements would make elections more credible and thus legitimise the elected leaders.
Security and technical concerns are often pointed to as the main concerns of Internet voting. There is no 100% guarantee that the network will be fully secure. Hackers, for example, could use malware to rig the outcome of the elections by tampering with how votes are submitted and counted or even casting votes for people who did not vote. Various encryption methods have been suggested to strengthen the security of electronic voting, including the blockchain, which is now integrated into most electronic voting systems as it can secure ballots transmitted from voters’ private devices to a centralized tabulation facility. Despite improvements in encryption techniques, security will always remain a challenge to the adoption of e-voting in Africa.
Developing an e-voting legal framework to reinforce electoral trust and ensure sufficient public participation is also crucial to the success of e-voting in Africa. Legislation must support e-voting for African citizens living abroad to exercise their democratic rights. There must be legislation that supports electronic voting. Such a legal framework empowers the African Election Management Bodies (EMB) and other stakeholders to remove the element of mistrust as the voting process is done within the confines of the law. Another critical prerequisite is the need to ensure adequate public participation in laws governing the electoral system. This can be overcome by allowing Parliament to exercise its legislative role and allowing members of the public to deliberate on and make substantive contributions to proposed changes to electoral policy. South Africa, Namibia, and Nigeria, for example, are currently exploring this.
Technical and logistical adequacy cannot be left out. There must be increased internet access and an improved capacity of independent electoral commissions for e-voting to function effectively and efficiently in Africa. African countries are still facing challenges in the implementation of mobile communication and Internet technologies. Countries like Somalia, South Sudan, and Mozambique have often been affected by ravaging wars, which destroy internet infrastructure. Beyond these, there is a general limit in internet penetration in Africa. Rural and underdeveloped regions may not have access to e-voting technologies to the extent that privileged segments of the population do. Some African citizens also remain excluded from internet voting because of computer illiteracy and unequal household internet usage and availability. There is a wide gap between the elderly and younger generations. The effective use of e-voting in African countries will be difficult because of this digital inequality.
Elections are the largest and most complex logistical operations that a country undertakes in peacetime. Electronic voting technologies need sufficient logistical infrastructure and a dependable power source to perform efficiently. Back-up batteries for electronic voting equipment are crucial as recharging may be needed from time to time.
Privacy should be strengthened to reduce voter intimidation and increase e-voting adoption. Votes cast through the Internet should be accorded the same secrecy as in manual elections. If a ballot is cast, the voter's identification details must be able to be authenticated and not linked to the ballot. The vote cast should also be accounted for in the outcome without identifying the voter. Identifying a voter may lead to threats and intimidation, which remains a key challenge and the reason why many citizens relent in adopting e-voting solutions. African Election Management Bodies (EMB) therefore have to find ways that ensure that each vote cast remains secret.
Without trust and transparency, e-voting cannot work. E-voting facilitates transparency and trust through real-time streaming of results from various counting centres. Trust is key because it determines the acceptance, credibility, and validation of the results from internet voting. Election Management Bodies (EMB) should be transparent in all the activities involved with electronic voting. To avoid mistrust from the public, the stakeholders should be educated on how Internet voting works and also made to appreciate the quality of the system. Relevant information should be available in a language that can easily be understood by the general public. The information should include full technical documentation of how the system is designed functionally and technically, all levels of software documentation, source code, and the technical and organizational environments where the system is hosted.
Having these crucial conditions in mind, is Africa ready to embrace e-voting? What is the way forward?
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