As was to be expected an announcement by the Independent Electoral Commission that they are pondering introducing the Electronic Voting Machine has been received with mixed feeling.
EVMs as they are called are a new thing in Botswana.
It is not at all surprising that so much is being said about this technology.
On the one side there are those who hail the initiative as a positive innovation while others look at it with askance, bemused apprehension and deep-seated fear that such technology will give other contenders for power the undue advantage over others including and especially to infiltrate and even manipulate the electoral system, thereby influencing the outcome of the elections.
Both sides have a point.
When looked at from a rational point of view at there is one lesson to draw from both sides of the debate: there remain enduring doubts and unhealthy skepticism about the independence of the IEC.
And these lingering doubts need to be addressed ÔÇô for the benefit of the IEC itself, but also for the voter and indeed the contenders for power who are among the chief stakeholders ion the IEC mandate.
Fears remain that the IEC is not independent enough.
Those holding this view are of the belief that a lot can still be done to make IEC more independent ÔÇô operationally and also legalistically.
They argue that under the current setup, the IEC is under immense sway of the executive through the Cabinet Secretary, or Permanent Secretary to the President.
They further argue that the IEC should be detached from the office of the President and be put under direct supervision of Parliament, or better still be a totally stand alone public service orgnisation.
While it remains the primary responsibility of the IEC to allay the fears, the Office of the President also has a duty to play a role by allowing room for magnanimity.
The starting point is to accept that the President is a contender for power and that he/she has a vested interest in the outcome of elections.
This also means accepting that at any given time the President is never a disinterested party.
To be fair to the IEC, they have gone out of their way to try and explain how the electronic machine will work, including clarifying and allaying fears that it will not be a software based machine.
“The Electronic Voting Machine is an electronic based technology as opposed to software based technology as is the case with computers and similar software based gadgets. It must be noted that this technology, if introduced will not replace some of the electoral processes including; registration of voters, verification of voters names in the voters roll, verification of Omang and registration cards at the polling stations. Voters will still have to go to polling stations to cast their votes,” said a statement from the IEC.
“The machine will only replace the ballot paper and the ballot box which will be incorporated into the configuration of the machine and its associated components. The machine will effectively reduce common long queues on voting day, eliminate rejected votes, and reduce waiting time before the release of results,” added the same statement from the IEC.
This point alone is very important because if it is true, it effectively diminishes, but not altogether erases the potential for hacking and manipulating.
It is also worth pointing out that the machine, is as of now only a proposal since there will have to be effected a change in law for it come into practice.
But that is only a side show.
The important thing that the IEC needs to address is to allay fears that the system is foolproof, and also that there will always a man-manned backup in case the machine fails.