Home Letters Proposing a solution to a problem that did not exist
Increasingly, since the 2020 national elections, members of the APNU-AFC Opposition have been calling for the use of biometrics for voter identification, in order to cast a vote in regional and national elections in Guyana.
On the other hand, the governing PPP has shown no interest in moving in this direction.
In my view, apart from the fact that implementation of a robust, secure biometrics system could be costly, depending on what features the system would capture, ie: fingerprint, or facial recognition, or both, and that the use of biometrics may violate the Constitution, as was the case with photo Identity Card for the 1997 elections, biometrics will not eliminate claims by a losing party of electoral fraud.
Biometrics is a front-end process to verify the identity of a voter before the individual is allowed to vote. In the 2020 elections, voting was observed by hundreds, if not thousands, of scrutineers from each party. In addition, there were international observers from the Commonwealth Secretariat, Caricom, the European Union (EU), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Carter Center, as well as local observers from the Private Sector Commission, the Guyana Public Service Union, and other civil society organizations. And there was no report of fraud on election day.
With reference to the voting on election day 2020, a clip of a videotape presented at the current Commission of Inquiry into the elections shows the Head of the OAS team of observers, Mr Bruce Golding, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, stating, “I have never seen a more transparent effort”. Another clip shows the European Union Ambassador, Mr Fernando, who was also an election observer, explaining the process of checking voter identity at polling stations, and stating, “It was safeguard after safeguard after safeguard. It was impossible to cheat…I was positively impressed”.
At the close of voting, the then APNU-AFC Government was all set to swear-in Mr Granger as President on the belief that the coalition had won the elections. There was no concern expressed by the APNU-AFC team at that time about voter fraud. Fraud was only seen during the declaration of results, when the Regional Officer for Region 4 was observed in plain view by local and international election observers, ambassadors of the ABC and EU countries, and party agents blatantly flouting the established procedure for declaration of the results, and presenting fraudulent numbers in favour of the APNU-AFC coalition.
After extensive delays due to machinations by GECOM staff followed by court challenges, when recount was finally allowed under the watchful eyes of a team from Caricom, voter fraud on election day was then raised as an issue by the APNU-AFC team. Another claim made by the APNU-AFC team, which is now no longer mentioned because it was proven factually to be untrue, is that votes cast by members of the Defence Force were not counted. As far as I am aware, the claim of voter fraud on election day is still to be proven.
However, cases which were investigated by the major newspapers in Guyana have proven this claim to be untrue. In the view of all independent observers, both local and international, fraud did not occur at the front-end of the election process, i.e: at the voter identification stage prior to voting. In fact, they all agree that fraud was attempted only when the declaration of votes for the last remaining region, Region 4, was being conducted.
It seems to me that the proponents of the use of biometrics are obfuscating the unproven claim of voter fraud with actual fraud attempted by GECOM staff, and are proposing a solution to a problem that did not exist.
Another factor to bear in mind is that biometrics’ authentication requires the use of computer technology. In an article captioned “Ramjattan says Russians, Libyan expelled over suspected plot to interfere in polls”, Stabroek News of March 6, 2020 reported “Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan yesterday (three days after the elections) said the Police expelled two Russians and a Libyan national from Guyana on Monday on the belief that they were here to interfere in the electoral process at the behest of the Opposition PPP”. According to the report, he also stated that computers, tablets, flash drives and a number of ‘other things electronic’ were seized from them. Further, it quotes him as saying, “We had to deport them on elections day after our intelligence realised that there (was) some conspiracy to tap into [the] GECOM [Guyana Elections Commission] computer system.
They were immediately deported. A fourth one, who was not found at his Marriott room, is on the run somewhere…”
In a March 11, 2020 article captioned “Teixeira dismisses ‘comical’ Gov’t claim of Russian plot to interfere in polls”, Ms Teixeira is quoted as saying, in a video on the PPP/C Facebook page, “The count in the polling station is done manually, not electronically, and the statements of poll are verified and tabulated manually, so there is no electronic systems for Russians or anybody else to hack into”.
To this day, Mr Ramjattan has not provided any proof to validate his claim, and he avoids any mention of this matter. His claim has since become a joke; however, had computers been used for voter identification, as would be the case with the use of biometrics, his claim could have gained credibility, thereby resulting in serious consequences. Interestingly, in the USA, Arkansas is one of the states where former President Donald Trump and his supporters claim there was a high degree of fraudulent votes cast in the 2020 presidential election. Yet, the politicians who control the elections machinery in that state, mainly supporters of Mr Trump’s party, have refused to consider biometrics for voter identification. In a September 21, 2022 article captioned “US State lawmakers look at biometrics for voting, say it’s just not ready” (Biometrics News), Jim Nash reports the views of state politicians. “The fraud committed in Arkansas is too …complex or unusual, maybe, to be addressed by the early examples of biometric systems used around the nation and the globe”.
In Guyana, biometrics would not have deterred the attempted fraud during the declaration of the election results. Instead of pushing biometrics to deal with an unproven claim, I believe the major Opposition party should be taking steps to win legitimately the support of the majority of voters, so it can be truly “a Government in waiting” ready to replace the current incumbent at the next elections. Unfortunately, it seems to be a long way from being ready to pursue such a course.