Even as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, “lockdowns” are easing across different parts of the world. For countries such as Ghana that are amid an election season, issues concerning safe voting practices have taken centre stage in the national political discussion. The time is ripe for our electoral commission to think about how to move forward with voting while keeping everyone safe.
Although many countries are reopening their businesses and their borders, infection rates have remained steady and have even increased in some places, like neighbouring Nigeria. With so much uncertainty on the horizon until a vaccine is made available, the electoral commission should seriously consider reinventing voting, anchored by a transition to digital ballots.
Standing in a lengthy queue to cast a ballot has been the conventional practice of conducting elections in Ghana. In a time where the World Health Organization still recommends people stand at least one metre apart and avoid crowded spaces, it is not advisable to continue with business as usual. Particularly for Ghana, a country with limited health and human resources. The time is now for the electoral commission to consider conducting voting from the comfort of people’s homes with the assistance of technology innovation.
Mobile penetration in Ghana is significantly high, with approximately 80% of Ghanaian adults owning a mobile phone according to Pew research. That is high enough to forge a digital home voting solution which is transparent and verifiably credible; one that the citizens can get on board with. With such a solution, even those in quarantine could exercise their voting mandate. It is hard to imagine a time that we in Ghana have needed the call of technology to address the pressing dilemma of how to cast the ballot in the era of social distancing.
To meet this unprecedented need, the electoral commission needs to take unprecedented action. However, the key questions confronting any government considering a digital home voting model are: Can we trust the digital vote to be infeasible and devoid of fraud and manipulation? Can one trust the digital vote to be counted once for each person? Can the votes be monitored and verified in case of electoral dispute?
The big takeaway based on existing data in institutions such as the National Identification Authority (NIA), the National Communications Authority (NCA), and the Electoral Commission (EC) indicate sufficient capacity available to design a neutral solution that would be robust and reliable enough to deny anyone entity from tampering with an innovative system. Ghana is in a position to establish a digital system that is better at securing the people’s votes and ballot boxes than the current system in use.
Amid COVID-19, Ghana is not the only country struggling with how to move forward during a pivotal year. However, we can learn lessons from a country such as Estonia.
For us in Ghana, the channels and infrastructure exist to allow electoral commission to affirm aforementioned concerns and to deliver a home-grown, innovative structural platform that will allow the electorate to cast their ballot without risk of coronavirus infection. Mobile or online voting is the safest, economically viable, most secure, and the best option available to Ghanaians in these times.