18 March 2019

South Africa: Digitised Polls Could Save SA Millions in Spending

Johannesburg — SOUTH Africa must look to future-proof, automated and digitised election processes to save millions of Rands spent on polls.

This is according to a technology executive as the continent's most advanced economy braces for general elections in May.

South African identity management Ideco CEO Marius Coetzee said elections would once again cost the country "hundreds of millions of Rands" and involve a massive logistical exercise.

He said while the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) does a sterling job in ensuring free and fair elections, the resources needed and costs involved in running South Africa's forthcoming elections could be slashed in future, if South Africa moved towards more efficient digital identity, authentication and voting systems.

"IEC has been moving in the right direction, aiming to facilitate more efficient and secure election processes using new technologies," said Coetzee.

"However, measures implemented to date may not be sufficiently future proof, and the scrapping of a tender last year may prove to be positive in the long run - allowing South Africa to extend its vision beyond what was initially envisaged."

Coetzee mentioned some key areas where the voting process could harness next-generation technologies to support more secure, efficient and cost-effective voting.

He recommended advanced biometric-based voter registration and using biometric-based identification to authenticate voters and automatically check them against the voters' roll.

The executive also advocated for the use of biometric identification to log on to a portal or terminal, and electronically casting a vote.

"E-voting allows for near real-time tallies and highly effective election monitoring," Coetzee explained.

He said South Africa had thus missed an opportunity to make the 2019 general election as efficient and cost effective as possible.

"However, now is the ideal time for the country to start building out a strategy to deliver a cheaper, more efficient election process next time around."

Instead of looking to African digital electoral systems leaders such as Ghana, South Africa should be bench-marking itself against world innovators such as Estonia, Coetzee said.

Estonia some years ago built on digital identities to enable a fully electronic voting system that allows voters to cast their ballots over the internet.

However, South Africa should first consider a review of the Electoral Act, which still prevents the implementation of a fully automated voting process.

"We also need to focus on an identity programme that provides each citizen with a secure and trusted digital identity token, which forms the basis of a next generation voting system," said Coetzee.

South Africa

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