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Voter register clean up fails again

By Isaac Mufumba

Muhlbauer  EC voter registration system cannot catch double registration

Former Soroti Municipality MP Mike Mukula, who is fighting to claw back the seat in the 2011 parliamentary elections, is getting support from an unlikely quarter  the Electoral Commission.

It has given his wife two voter numbers, meaning that if she is so inclined, she could give her husband or whoever she supports not one, but two votes.

Mukula Gladys is listed on the voters register for Central Ward polling station in Soroti Municipality as number 11515367 and 33398901. Other details are exactly the same.

Mukula did not cause the double registration and neither did his wife. Blame it all the faulty registration system supplied to the EC by the German firm Muhlbauer High Tech International.

It failed to catch such double entries and resulted in a blotted voter roll which, if not sorted in time, could prove disastrous in the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections.

EC Secretary Sam Rwakoojo says that it is difficult to explain the circumstances under which such cases arose.

Experts are warning that the online voter register is not secure and can easily be hacked into and manipulated.

A casual glance at the voter register reveals massive double registration. In the same Soroti Municipality Central Ward, voter number 34594429 is Esabu Steven, born on June 10, 1985. But there is voter number 08602230 Esabu Stephen who was born on June 10, 1985. There is voter number 11610236 Amaikori Agnes who was born on Aug. 14, 1986 and voter number 10777473 Amaikori Agnes Maureen who was born on Aug. 14, 1986.

Sometimes the names vary only slightly in spelling. In Kampala Central is voter number 11823882, Nabankema Salam, born on Dec. 5, 1980 and voter number 32984382 Nabankema Salmah who was born on Dec. 05, 1980. Others share names, but have birthdays that are exactly one month or one year apart. Compare voter number 32983655 Lutaaya William who was born on Sept. 11, 1963 and voter number 11825254 Lutaaya William who was born on Oct.11, 1969; and voter number 11825402 Nakiganda Zaituni was born on July 07, 1971 and voter number 32985077 Nakiganda Zaitun who was born on July 17, 1972.

What about voter number 11825281 Segawa Ivan who was born on Jan. 01, 1970 and voter number 32327070 Segawa Ivan who was born on August 08, 1970?

What about the case of voter number 11824103 Arihomukama Jurius who was born on 11/07/80 and voter number 33457588 Arihoomukama Julius who was born on 22/12/82?

The casual look at three constituencies, Kigulu South in Iganga, Soroti Municipality in Soroti, and Kampala Central, revealed 350 cases of suspected double registration.

15 million voters?

Discovery of the anomalies comes at a time when the EC and opposition parties are locked in disagreement over the actual number of eligible voters.

The EC says that the number of registered voters rose from 10.5 million voters in 2006 to 14.5 million following a registration process that ended in June this year. The opposition insists that there are about two million ghost voters on the register.

“If you are seeing such high incidences of multiple registration in nearby constituencies, how many are there in the registers of constituencies in Bundibugyo and Karamoja which are distant and hard to reach?” opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Vice Chairperson for Eastern Uganda, Salaamu Musumba, wonders.

The EC’s figures are suspicious given that the number of voters fell from 11.4 million in 2002 to 8.4 million in 2005 when the voter roll was cleaned. How then could the number of voters surged by 6.1 million in a period of over five years?

“Half of that would have perhaps been understandable, but a growth of such proportions is unimaginable,” Musumba says.

She describes the cases of multiple registrations as a deliberate ploy aimed at helping the NRM steal the 2011 general election.

Opposition Chief Whip Kassiano Wadri says that failure to come up with a clean register is one of the reasons behind the opposition’s persistent demands for an overhaul of the EC, which is accused of being incompent and partial to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party of President Yoweri Museveni, who appoints the EC officials.

 “You cannot have a transparent, free and fair election without a clean voter register. That is the cornerstone of any election,” he says.

The opposition has been very active in organizing protests against the Badru Kiggundu led EC which they want disbanded, but they are not jointly or at individual political party level applying all sorts of data analysis tools, to analyze the voter roll and provide their findings.

Muhlbauer fails

In June when fresh registration was conducted, EC Chairman Badru Kiggundu said that the employment of biometric technology and the application of facial recognition would exorcise ghost voters from the register.

“It will be very unlikely to vote twice even if you have a twin sister or twin brother,” he said. He was wrong.

No biometric system is 100 percent accurate. Instead, each has biometric system has a confidence interval or band which measures the divergence from the desired accuracy. It would appear the divergence in the EC system is to wide. However, the problem at the EC appears to be that is it using two different and incompatible data systems.

Work on the development of an electronic register began in 2002. It was based on data contained in the 2001 register. The electronic register was fully used in 2006. That register which was developed with software provided by the South African firm, Face Technologies, includes a photograph, but no significant other detail like finger prints.

The June 2010 registration was carried out using equipment and software provided by the German firm Muhlbauer High Tech International, which won the now controversial €64,231,371.49 (Approx. Shs19 billion) National Identity Cards’ project.

Under the contract, which was signed on March 19, Muhlbauer is to provide mobile data enrolment systems for capturing personal data, create a centralised population database, and establish personalisation centers for the biometric identification documents.

But some MPs want the contract annulled because it was awarded in breach of procurement rules. There are also allegations of influence peddling on the part of one of the two ICT ministers who is alleged to have usurped the role of technocrats and travelled to Germany along with his business associate and a female secretary to carry out what was meant to be due diligence on the Muhlbauer software and equipment before the contract was signed.

It was part of the mobile data enrolment systems supplied by Muhlbauer that the EC used capture photographs, fingerprints and additional data such as parental lineages and citizenship during the June exercise, in which all who registered were given registration numbers commencing with the digit 3.

The process was expected to automatically end incidents of multiple registrations but many people who had earlier registered as voters still managed to re-register undetected.

The failure has led the Muhlbauer equipment to be criticised.

Information Communication Technology (ICT) experts blame failure to synchronize the Muhlbauer and Face Technologies software packages to provide for automatic detection and deletion of any one of two identical registrations.

Fingerprints and photographs are normally matched up in order to automatically detect cases of double registration, but this has so far not been possible.

“They (EC) haven’t got electronic means to reliably detect (double registration). Electronically, fingerprints could have been used, but the old system doesn’t have them. They couldn’t have used automatic face matching either because the quality of the photographs in the old and new systems is not particularly suited to automatic face matching,” an expert working in the EC data rooms, explained.

Rwakojjo concedes that finger print match ups-could not apply to the 10.5 million voters who had been on the register before June this year because they did not have finger print records in the old register. Finger prints match ups can only be applied to the 4.5 million newly registered voters. Even then, such match ups can only be applied either in a subsequent registration exercise or where any of the newly registered voters attempted to register more than once during the recent exercise.

Besides, he says, the quality, sharpness and resolution of photographs in the old register is poorer than those in the new register making automated face matching during the duplicate analysis a nightmare.

Automatic duplicate analysis wasnt thorough. There was need for human input, he says.

Rwakoojo, however, remains optimistic that voter numbers on the register may go down tremendously once an on-going duplicate analysis at the EC is complete. It is slated to end in September.

But there is another problem. According to experts, the online voter register is not secure. The Portable Document Format (PDF) files that are accessed when one opens the online register can be opened and manipulated by dubious characters.

Experts say that the electronic register can be downloaded, edited with a PDF editor in Alternatively, the experts say one can download and modify the record using Microsoft Windows and Adobe Acrobat Reader or Linux Evince DPF Reader. The only challenge the expert says would be in uploading the manipulated record, but that this is not impossible if a serious hacker sets his or her mind on it.

If people can hack into the State Departments computers in the United States, then there is a possibility that they can hack into ours too,  Rwakoojo said.

He said fear of abuse had led the EC not to upload photographs, fingerprints, and other bio-data on the online register.

Question: If the Muhlbauer system cannot help the EC clean up a voters register of about 14.5 million people, how will it implement a national biometric registration of Uganda’s approximately 33 million people?

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