3 500 More Voting Machines Needed, Expected to Cost N$30 Million

DESPITE fears that voters have not been well educated on how to use electoral voting machines (EVMs) in the upcoming elections, the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) says it needs 3 500 more machines worth N$30 million to be on stand-by this year.

Speaking to The Namibian yesterday, ECN director of elections Paul Isaak said it is possible for Namibia to hold elections in one day just like the Indians, who are more in number.

Isaak said there is a high possibility for a one-day election since this is one of the proposals in the new electoral law: “We just might end up voting in one day, too.”

Currently, there are 3 400 voting machines bought from India before the 2009 elections, at a cost of N$10 million but they were not used because of a lack of voter education.

The machines were tailor-made for use in Namibia. They have ballots and control units meant to reduce long queues and enhance fast, reliable and efficient elections.

Isaak said they will need the extra machines in case the ones they have in stock fail to function.

“We stored the EVMs here at the ECN offices since the last elections. They are still usable but their batteries need to be replaced and, therefore, we will get new batteries, and the additional 3 500 EVMs to be on stand-by,” said Isaak.

He added that there is no need to pay for the extra batteries since the EVMs are on guarantee.

Isaak said the ECN will launch its voter education within the next two weeks, and conduct mock elections in every constituency in the country.

“We want to ensure that every Namibian knows how to use these machines before elections. By the end of May, we start with the voter education process and we hope not only to educate the people on how to use the machines, but also to test whether they can work well in all types of environment,” he explained.

When asked why the ECN is taking long in educating voters on how to use the voting machines, Isaak pointed out that they were focusing their energy entirely on voters’ registration.

Isaak pointed out that just like in the case of the general registration of voters (GRV), the ECN will have to rely on government support as well as private individuals for transport.

“We only have 160 cars,” Isaak pointed out.

Isaak said he has confidence in the machines and that the ECN will have a clean voters’ roll because the machines are tamper free.

Contrary to some media reports last week, which stated that the current law does not make provision for the use of the EVMs, Isaak said the law does sanction the use of these EVMs.

According to Isaak, the Electoral Act is still valid and just because a new bill will be gazetted, it does not mean that the ECN has no law to operate on.

Quoting the Electoral Act of 2009, section 79 (B), Isaak said the voting machine can be used for the elections.

The said section says: ” [The] Commission may adopt voting by way of voting machines in such manner and (a) the manner of registering and recording of votes by way of voting machines and the procedure relating to voting to be followed at polling stations where such machines are used.”

Isaak, however, said the new Bill will include regulations and steps on how the elections will be conducted and in what manner the voters’ roll should be displayed.

Namibia, Isaak pointed out, will be one of the first African countries to use such machines, and although the machines were manufactured in India, they are not the exact replica of the ones Indians are using.

He further said the voting machines in Namibian have a button while the Indian voting machines have an audit paper where the vote is cast.

Political commentator, and director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Graham Hopwood, pointed out that for the ECN to ensure a clean voters’ roll, the register must be placed in a format where one can easily spot discrepancies, for instance Excel.

SWANU of Namibia’s president, Usutuaije Maamberua, yesterday said he does not believe that the EVM will deliver fair results, if it is used this time around, “Either drop the whole idea or combine both the ballot paper and the EVMs.

“They should use ballot papers with the EVMs, so as to ensure valid results. How can they (ECN) want to educate people on these machines now?” asked Maamberua.

Source : The Namibian