Publication | Report/Paper

Technical Assessment: Electronic Registration and Voting System, Jamaica


After several meetings with the Chairman of the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) was asked by the EAC to conduct an assessment of a proposed electronic registration and voting system. The EAC would like to implement the new system in Jamaica to help combat corruption and fraud in the electoral system, which according to the EAC has been steadily increasing, by lessening the degree to which individuals will be able to gain fraudulent access to it. Most of the information that the EAC has received to date has come from vendors that want to provide equipment to the EAC for the new electronic system. Because the vendors are trying to sell equipment, however, they may not always be a very objective and unbiased source of information. IFES was asked to conduct this evaluation because IFES could provide useful information to the EAC in an objective and unbiased fashion. IFES assembled a team of four persons, each an expert in one of the three core technologies of the proposed new system: computerization and registration databases, automated fingerprint identification, and electronic voting machines.

Jamaica currently conducts its enumeration every four years in a house-to-house fashion and on election day uses a traditional paper ballot, ballot box, and voters list. The EAC is planning the new system in two phases. The EAC envisions the following system for Phase I or the enumeration phase: 1) house-to-house or central registration sites in which all registration data is collected digitally on a computer, 2) photographs are taken with a digital camera, 3) fingerprints are taken with a live-scan fingerprint imager. All of the collected data is stored digitally on the ID card which can be read later by a special machine.

On election day (phase 11), the EAC envisions the following system: 1) As the voter enters the polling place, a live-scan fingerprint is taken (scanned electronic image) and validated against a previously scanned image that is digitally stored on the ID card. 2) The voter then goes to the voting booth where the fingerprint is scanned and verified once again. This second fingerprint verification activates the electronic voting machine and allows the individual to vote. 3) Each vote is recorded on the machine and might possibly be transmitted at intervals to a central tabulation network. 4) Finally, the voting machine will print out a receipt of the vote which can be reviewed by the voter for accuracy and then placed in a ballot box for a hard copy audit trail. At the close of polls, the voting machine will produce a list of names of all electors who voted. A final electronic tabulation of votes will also be performed.

By law, the EAC should begin the next enumeration exercise no later than March 1995. To facilitate the planning and development of specifications for the writing of the Phase I RFP, the EAC has contracted with Price Waterhouse. Price Waterhouse will assist the EAC in the preparation of the Phase I RFP and may also take part in the development of the Phase II RFP. It is the team's understanding that the RFPs will be distributed internationally. The international RFP process should allow for the largest possible number of vendors to participate, both to receive the best cost proposal, as well as to find the best solution to the problems facing the electoral system in Jamaica.

On a parallel track, the European Union (EU) has financed a team of consultants to assess the feasibility, and assist in the design of, a national ID card that would be the single document for all public transactions such as registering for school, tax refunds, social security, etc. Depending upon the team's assessment, and its own budgetary constraints, the EU might commit funds to help develop this national registry and ID card program. Rather than running two enumeration exercises (one for voting registration and the other for national registration), the IFES team strongly recommends that the EAC use the proposed national registry for its voters list data and accept the new national ID card as the voters card. This will, however, depend on whether or not the national registry can be completed sufficiently in advance of the next elections to be useful.

The team examined three aspects in relation to the proposed electronic registration and voting system: technical aspects, operational aspects, and cost considerations. From the technical point of view, all of the technologies proposed are well-developed and should function exactly as planned under given ideal conditions. The only novelty is that the technologies have never been combined in this way before. An examination of the conditions, which are often less than ideal, results in the next section of the report which looks at operational aspects. Because the system is technically feasible, it also is, in theory, operationally feasible. However, to be operationally feasible in practice, a number of concerns and options that are presented in this report will need to be considered (along with others that will undoubtably surface as the development process progresses).
Finally, the report attempts to provide a very preliminary cost estimate for the system as proposed. This estimate is subject to strong variation, either up or down, depending on a number of factors outlined in the section on cost considerations. In the end, the financial feasibility will depend on whether or not the EAC can convince the governing party, influential Jamaican organizations and institutions, the international donor community, and the voters themselves that the funds necessary for the project will be money well spent.

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