With all the tantalizing possibilities that 2019 offers, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) plans to transform its elections function into a full-time office.
“The office has a work plan for training different layers of cadres on election observation in the run-up to the 2019 elections,” says UDC’s Vice President, Ndaba Gaolathe, adding that the facilitators of this particular aspect of the plan includes both local and international experts.
If the government sees its own plan to fruition, the 2019 election will be fully automated. Viewed in a positive light, the introduction of electronic voting machines represents a high-water mark for Botswana’s electoral democracy and while some in the opposition are apprehensive about this development, Gaolathe welcomes it noting its particular benefit for opposition parties.
“The burden on the UDC to secure the vehicles required to monitor the transportation of ballots may be lessened by the new system as the counting is typically done at the polling station and also the serial system of the machines makes it more difficult [for it] to be replicated compared to the box system,” he says.
In what seems like an all but formally done deal, it is expected that the Independent Electoral Commission will get the EVMs from a state-owned Indian company called Bharat Electronics Limited. Gaolathe was among a delegation that visited India recently to get a first-hand, on-the-ground appreciation of this technology. He says that this trip exposed him to “the entire chain of process from manufacturing to application, and to where the lapses might be and how they may be managed.”
The Bonnington South MP found EVMs to be vastly different in terms of their technology sophistication and potential for fair application.
“The voting process is a highly contentious business and is the best example for the “seeing is believing” approach to life. In this respect, the approach to EVMs should be a balance between efficiently casting and counting large volumes of votes and still be able to account for them in a way that satisfies all stakeholders,” says Gaolathe adding that while EVMs are an option worth considering, it is still too early to say if they would be suited to Botswana for its 2019 elections.
His generally positive disposition to this technology notwithstanding, the MP feels that ensuring the integrity of the electoral process requires a collective of laws, processes, capacity and capabilities at different levels and by different stakeholders.
“For example, fairness is also dependent on how the Chairman of the electoral commission and other commissioners are selected. Even if you had the best vote-casting technology, it will come to little use if those who manage the elections are biased and unfair. The introduction of the EVMs may enhance only the speed and efficiency of the voting and counting process, and not necessarily the integrity of the electoral process as that depends immensely on the governance structures and process of our system.”