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Opinions of Friday, 21 May 2010

Columnist: Amponsah, John

Avoiding a hasty adoption of E-voting in Ghana

By John Amponsah

As I argued in two earlier articles, spending a great deal of money on electronic voting machines will not necessarily guarantee safer and quicker elections. The contrary could turn out to be the case, that is, investing in prohibitively expensive electronic voting equipment which turn out to be easily manipulated by a sophisticated outside influence, using easily available equipment. This is the case related below, where the e-voting system used by India was broken into by a group of American computer scientists from the University of Michigan using very cheap and easily available equipment (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/10123478.stm).

An American e-voting system itself fell victim to computer scientists from Johns Hopkins University when it was demonstrated that the Diebold Accu-vote 2000 e-voting system could be hacked into. This is the same system that produced “negative votes” in Volusia county, Florida during the USA 2000 presidential election. Many people know that Florida was a key state in that election, where Al Gore won by raw number of votes, but Bush was declared winner by having a greater number of Electoral College votes.

In the case of Ghana, it may be worthwhile to conduct research into open source hardware and software systems. Such systems are open to scrutiny by anyone who wants to investigate just how the electronic voting machine works. Any system short of these open source platforms should be approached with caution and doubt, in my view. Although there are some working open source systems, it will probably still take a few years to for more systems to appear on the market. In the meantime, Ghana could spend that money to be used on e-voting on further educating the population.

The UK just had an election where 44 million people voted. No e-voting machines were used, yet because of their infrastructure and educated population, the entire process executed efficiently and results were already available 24 hours after the election. In Ghana, it has taken a few days to produce results during previous elections (when there were no ‘complications’). I still maintain the opinion that our current system allows for better accountability, since all who voted can potentially observe their votes being counted, rather than trusting in the electronic calculations of some very expensive but still ‘hackable’ voting machine, which could even make a ‘mistake’ by producing ‘negative’ vote numbers for a popular candidate.

For a more in-depth treatment of my arguments against the hasty adoption of electronic voting systems in Ghana, see two earlier articles I wrote, entitled: “Electronic Voting Machines and a New Era of Fixing Elections”, and “E-Voting in Ghana and the 2012 elections” (all archived on Ghanaweb.com).