Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, a former Electoral Commissioner, has cautioned electoral management bodies (EMB) in Africa against the rush to introduce new technology into the electoral process.
He said before the introduction of a new technology, an EMB must carefully consider what it wanted the technology to do and also reviewm the track record of the technology to see if it had been used elsewhere for same purpose.
He said the EMB also have to assess the suitability of the technology to the local, social and environmental conditions, evaluate the cost implications for sustaining the technology and ascertain the level of trust of political parties and the electorate in the new technology.
Dr Afari-Gyan said this on Tuesday at the West Africa Election Observers Network (WAEON) Conference in Accra.
The two-day conference on the theme: “The Increasing Role of Technology in Election Administration: Implications for Election Observer Groups”, is being organized by WAEON in collaboration with the Centre for Democratic Development Ghana.
It is being attended by more than 40 participants drawn from across Africa and seeks to bring together citizens, election observer groups and other electoral stakeholders in the West-African sub-region to deliberate on emerging issues from technology driven elections and election observation.
Dr Afari-Gyan said technology could be used in several ways in electoral administration such as managing large-scale data, particularly relating to voter registration, the production of ballots and logistical planning.
Others are voter education, compilation and transmission of election results.
“So, we can see that, generally speaking, there are good reasons for the resort to the use of technology in election administration. Even so, I think that an EMB should not rush to introduce technology,” Dr Afari-Gyan stated.
“Before my retirement, some fellow election administrators would say to me: ‘Ghana started introducing technology before we did, but we have now overtaken you’; only to hear later that they had serious problems with their new technologies. It is not helpful to view the introduction of technology as a race for honours.”
He pointed out that his personal take on the issue of introducing technology into election administration was the seemingly contradictory dictum of making haste slowly.
“Be it that as it may, I suppose that we will agree that a cardinal principle of democracy is that legitimate leaders are chosen by the people through their votes in a genuine election,” he stated.
He said that particularly in African contexts, which were inundated with suspicion and mistrust for technology to advance this cardinal principle, it was important that the process associated with it should be easy for all to use, accessible, secure, sustainable and transparent.
Dr Afari-Gyan noted that one could have the best election technology available and still not be able to deliver a credible election; declaring that “This underscores the singular importance of the human factor in elections”.
“Technology is used to assist election officials to do their work. So, beyond technology, an EMB has a responsibility to put its house in order for elections,” he said.
Dr Franklin Oduro, Project Manager and Head of WAEON Secretariat, underscored the significant role EMBs played in deepening democratic process on the African continent.
Mr James Lahai, Acting Chairperson, WAEON Executive Council, called for the re-examination of the role of technology in the electoral process.
Mr Francis Oke, Head of ECOWAS Electoral Assistance Division, lauded Dr Afari-Gyan for playing a pioneering role in Africa’s electoral management process.
WAEON is an independent, non-partisan and non-religious organization that aims at strengthening and supporting Citizen Election Observation Groups in the West Africa sub-region.