The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) has confirmed it will use the manual ballot papers in the upcoming regional council and local authority elections, saying the electoral body would not be in a position to afford voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) devices to allow for electronic voting. According to the ECN, the situation is exacerbated by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Briefing the media last week, ECN chairperson Notemba Tjipueja said they have taken note of the views expressed by a sizeable portion of stakeholders against the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) without the VVPAT or paper trail – a matter that was the bone of contention in a Supreme Court case.
“We also wish to note that the cost of acquiring the VVPAT devices, including development of prototype, customisation, shipment and operator training and voter education, is estimated at N$132 927 642,” she said.
Furthermore, Tjipueja said, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced both private and public sector organisations to change and re-engineer business processes.
“Operating and voting by use of EVMs involves substantial touching of equipment both during the first level check, candidate setting as well as the actual casting of votes,” she said.
Given the manner that Covid-19 is transmitted, Tjipueja said it is clear that the use of EVMs may exacerbate the further spread of this deadly virus.
“Based on the cumulative weight of the factors enunciated above, the ECN submits that manual ballot papers be used for the forthcoming elections,” she added.
She said the ECN has designed a targeted voter and civic education campaign aimed at re-educating the electorate on the use of ballot papers.
“The re-introduction of the manual voting system would require a mindset shift which calls for new innovative ways of voter education that ensures that all registered voters are able to cast their vote in confidence so as to promote secrecy of the vote and reduce rejected ballot papers,” she said. Thus, she noted, the ECN has formally informed all political parties and organisations of these factors and considerations during a consultative meeting held last week.
“The consensus position is that manual ballot papers will be used during the forthcoming regional councils and local authority elections,” she emphasised.
The said meeting, Tjipueja said, also agreed that the ECN will initiate proper consultations with all stakeholders during the year 2021 in order to discuss and make the best choices on the future of EVMs, considering the significant investment made in the acquisition of this technology.
The absence of a VVPAT has been a hot topic going into last year’s general election.
Over the years, opposition parties have demanded that EVMs be fitted with VVPAT devices for the elections.
The Electoral Act stipulates that the use of EVMs must be accompanied by a verifiable paper trail for every vote cast.
However, these provisions on paper trails have not yet been brought into force since the introduction of the EVMs in Namibian elections, even though all other provisions of the law were enacted almost five years ago.
Furthermore, Tjipueja said the biggest challenge the ECN faces is to conduct the forthcoming elections against the backdrop of a major public health crisis.
“As alluded to earlier, the ECN has established a working relationship with the Ministry of Health and Social Services,” she said.
She said the ECN has thus provided the ministry with a draft mitigation strategy document for the ministry to provide a public health risk assessment in respect of all electoral processes and the transmission risks they may involve.
In short, she said, the ECN mitigation strategy is anchored around four pillars, which is to communicate and coordinate with the health ministry on risk analysis and effective implementation of the risk-mitigation strategies and mitigate person-to-person interaction through the enforcement of safe physical distance, respiratory hygiene and use of personal protective equipment (PPE).