Success/Failure Case Study No.22
Failed Electronic Voter Registration in Uganda
Case Study Author
Application and Description
This was a citizen service to take photographs of all citizens of voting age using digital cameras. The photographs were then to be loaded onto a voters' register database. The database was supposed to be maintained on a mainframe at the Interim Electoral Commission headquarters, which would be connected to District Electoral Commission offices through the Internet. The database would be used as the basis for voter identification at polling stations for the 2001 election.
The stated purpose behind the application was to weed out impostors who voted in the names of the dead and absentee voters, and to avoid double registration of voters, which was rampant in the country.
One key stakeholder in the process was the Interim Electoral Commission, which some have seen as implicated in some of the shortcomings of the system. All citizen-voters were stakeholders, being affected by the registration process; and all politicians and political parties had a stake in the registration system.
Impact: Costs and Benefits
A total sum of roughly US$22m was spent on equipment, consultancy services and operations. There were no formal benefits because the system was not put to use for the 2001 elections. The acrimony which arose out of the electoral process led to a number of court cases between government and opposition groups, and police surveillance of opposition leaders. Some opposition leadership has fled the country as a result of these tensions, leading to greater potential for destabilisation.
Evaluation: Failure or Success?
This has been a total failure. Things went wrong at an early stage with the hardware, with criticism that the tenders for procurement of the digital cameras were not transparent, leading to problems with the equipment delivered, and with reports that a number of the cameras were stolen from what should have been a safe government store. Although citizen photographing did proceed, it took place within a very short time and many people were not captured by the system. There were complaints from opposition parties that security agency staff had intervened in the workings of the computer system. Suspicions were raised of manipulation of voter registrations in opposition strongholds. Opposition parties felt that names might be removed from the electoral roll in one place, in order to disenfranchise those who might vote for the opposition, and put back on in other districts, allowing soldiers to vote many times for the ruling candidates in the names of the disenfranchised citizens.
When sample voter registers were produced by the system, they were found to be erroneous, with some photographs not corresponding with names of voters. Coupled with opposition suspicions, this led the entire exercise to be suspended. Old voter registers were used to conduct presidential, parliamentary and civic elections in the country in 2001. There have been suggestions that the system may be used for the 2006 elections. However, the work of the electoral commissioners has now been wound up and - nearly two years on - no action has been taken to revive the system. Even if still available, some of the equipment is likely to be obsolete by 2006. At present, it is just going to waste.
Enablers/Critical Success Factors
The success of the electoral process in 2001 can be put down to three factors: the existence of the old voter registers; the political patience of the population, and the strong participation of the armed forces in keeping a lid on political dissent.
Constraints/Critical Failure Factors
This voter registration system failed largely because it was a technical instrument introduced into a highly politicised situation; a situation in which there was a perceived lack of political will from government to implement the system as intended; a lack of political awareness on the part of many Ugandan citizens; and a lack of capacity on the part of the Interim Electoral Commission to create conditions in which the system would not only be used impartially, but be seen to be used impartially.
- Find political will . The success or failure of e-government projects - especially those involving citizens and the democratic process - is significantly determined by the political context. Unless there is a political will to see the e-government project succeed, then it is likely to fail.
- Move incrementally . 'Big bang' approaches - that suddenly introduce new technologies and processes - are quite likely to fail. Instead, e-government projects should be implemented in a systematic but gradual manner.
- Involve civil society . In projects that touch the broader issues of governance, the participation of civil society organisations should be encouraged from the inception. They can have longer-term objectives for improvement of the governance process that can usefully balance objectives in government that may be merely for short-term survival.
Author Data Sources/Role : Direct Role in Electoral Process.
Outcome : Total Failure. Reform : eCitizens (Listening to Citizens). Sector : General Services (Electoral Commission).
Region : East Africa. Start Date : 2001. Submission Date : November 2002