Voter Biometric Registration, MEC embracing technology

 Last week, the Malawi Electoral Commission met political parties and other electoral stakeholders based in the Southern Region. The Commission met Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Peoples Party (PP), United Democratic Front (UDF) and other political parties. The same week it also met Civil Society Organizations as well as the media. The Commission is conducting these meetings to ensure that stakeholders are well informed about the activities the Commission is carrying out as it is preparing for the 2019 tripartite elections. Top on the agenda were plans that the Commission has for the forthcoming voter registration to take place in May, 2019.  Another agenda was the demarcation of wards and constituencies. The Commission presented the three options that it has for the registration exercise.

Option one is that the Commission will work with the National Registration Bureau (NRB) to register eligible registrants using the data that will be collected by NRB. This means that the Commission shall only get information from NRB without conducting the actual registration of voters. It shall use the information from NRB to update its voters roll, however electorate shall be asked to go and verify the biodata.

The second option is that MEC will go alone to conduct the whole voter registration using the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR).

The last option is that MEC will use the system it is currently using known as Optical Mark Recognition (OMR).

However, small democracies are slowly embracing appropriate technologies in the election process. Save for voting, a proper registration is one activity that is crucial for an election to be free, fair and credible. The Malawi Electoral Commission always ensures that it conducts a registration exercise that does not leave questions by stakeholders. For some time, the Commission has been advocating the use of BVR for its registration exercise. However as the Commission continues advocating for the approval of the use of BVR, we continue to give the advantages and disadvantages of using the BVR.

 Lack of experience by the staff handling the BVR machines and devices contributes to occasional slowing or a halt to the registration process because machines hang or even fail to function. This means that when recruiting staff, MEC has to ensure that it recruits workers who have knowledge in IT.

The Commission needs staff that has essential skills for operating biometric voter registration (BVR) including basic computer skills, with an emphasis on data capture, processing and administration. The staff should also have planning and logistical skills. It should also be mentioned that there should be some capacity of staff to repair and maintain equipment. For this MEC should prepare for enough funds and time must also be set aside for training of staff.

Following the meetings that the Commission has been engaging in with the NRB, it is apparent that by December this year all the rightful citizens of this country shall be registered and that come next year the Commission shall register all the eligible registrants. However if the national registration is delayed it also means that the work of the Commission shall be effected, in the long run making it difficult for the Commission to deliver its mandate.

The Commission is committed to see to it that come 2019 It conducts free, fair, credible and cost effective tripartite elections.