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Opinions of Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Columnist: Amponsah, John

E-Voting in Ghana and the 2012 Elections

By John Amponsah

A number of Ghanaian individuals have either hinted at or strongly advocated for the use of Biometric/E-Voting machines to become a part of Ghana’s elections, even as early as 2012. Among those who have hinted at the use of Biometric/E-Voting machines in Ghanaian elections are none other than Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan.

Recently the Danquah Institute presented an article online entitled “Ghana can become a war zone in 2012” which caused anger and consternation among some readers. It should be remembered that the “Danquah Institute” is run and led by human beings. The “Danquah Institute” by itself cannot write an article, human beings write articles. Mr. Asare Otchere Darko need not create hysteria, sensationalism or use other propaganda techniques to reiterate his support for E-Voting to be instituted in Ghana.

It seems to me that what will be more useful and constructive is to first focus on the scientific aspects regarding E-Voting in order to arrive at good policy decisions regarding the subject itself. Since E-Voting is fundamentally a scientific issue (computer science and engineering), we need input from computer security analysts and scientists who understand computer software issues such as databases, networking, security and cryptography. We also need engineers who understand computer hardware issues such as the Optical Character Recognition mechanisms used in E-Voting machines.

Think tanks are meant to be advisory institutions whose research and analysis can positively impact policy. The Danquah Institute could benefit from working directly with Ghanaian computer scientists and engineers as well as other think tanks, government institutions and independent bodies (including individuals) to investigate the scientific aspects of E-Voting, which is perhaps the reason why Mr. Asare Otchere Darko’s institute is sponsoring the February 2010 “National Conference on E-Voting”. Given the Danquah Institute’s position on E-Voting, one will hope that such a conference will allow positions from all sides rather than being used as a means to justify the position of the Danquah Institute (Asare Otchere Darko) on the subject of E-Voting.

Only a few weeks ago (December 1st 2009), Sequoia Voting Systems became the first major company of its kind (Voting Systems Manufacturers) to publish it’s source code openly for public download and study. You can read the following article for more information (http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/topix/?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20091201006177&newsLang=en). The move follows an earlier disclosure made by the California based Open Source Digital Voting Foundation (OSDF) which made available the source code of its Prototype Election Software in October 2009 (see: www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/10/open-source/).

This is a very exciting and promising move, one which should excite Ghanaian computer security analysts, scientists and engineers as well as other researchers who are interested in understanding the technical aspects of E-Voting before we wholeheartedly embrace it, if at all. These two developments are very current as of December 2009.

The first article I wrote on this subject, entitled “Electronic Voting Machines and a New Era of Fixing Elections” discussed some of the historical voting irregularities which resulted in the US from (largely) using the E-Voting machine Diebold shown by computer scientists to be far below the standard required for E-Voting. It is my hope that Ghanaian computer scientists and researchers interested in the subject of E-Voting will study these recently published open source computer source codes from Sequoia and the OSDV as well as conduct further research into open source hardware platforms. I believe our computer security analysts, scientists and engineers are in the best position to advice government policy on the subject of E-Voting.

CONCLUSION In my view implementing E-Voting in Ghana’s 2012 election is too early, because much research needs to be done beforehand to answer the question of “whether or not” rather than “when”. Apart from the prohibitively expensive national installation of E-Voting computer infrastructure and the education that programs that will be required to get voters up to speed with these machines, there are more fundamental technical, logistical, computer security and platform related questions that must first be addressed. Right now what is important is to understand that the E-Voting option should be seen as still being in the 'research phase' as far as national implementation is concerned.