Sunday, April 5, 2009

E- Voting at Makerere University

The room is packed and the tension is high as girls line up to cast their votes for their different candidates. The candidates in turn throng the lines of voters reminding them constantly with little flyers and sweets and candies, more commonly known as “logistics”, to nudge voters to include their names on the list they, the voters, will be ticking. But this is no ordinary election. It is Makerere University’s very first election that is being conducted using the E-Voting System.

The online system that has the aspirants and their pictures entered into the system was built at the Makerere University faculty of Computing and IT (CIT) as part of the National Software Incubation Center’s first batch of projects to be incubated. After being turned out as project, the system has now turned into an application. It has seen its first daylight during the current SCR {senior Common Room} elections at the university and seems to be taking the pressure pretty well. The idea, according to Mr. Benon Jurua, the Chairman, Electoral Commission, was to make voting faster and easier while reducing the long queues that are so often a result of the slow ballot process.

Mr. Jurua Benon

“We see this system as an advantage because we are currently in the age of technology and no where is this technology more relevant as here. Even though it does not come with its challenges, this is a huge step in the nature of voting at the university. We hope that the other hall will cooperate to make the whole university process easier”, he said as he supervised elections at Mary Stuart Hall, at the University.

The system boasts of several advantages over the traditional ballot process. For one, it relies on the voter’s student number and because this is verified at the entrance by polling agents, it makes it nearly impossible for one person to vote twice unless they have two identity cards. The system then uses the student’s number on your identity card to generate n code, which then gives you access from any networked terminal in the voting area to the ballot paper. You tick the candidates of your choice and click VOTE and go. The whole process takes about 2-3 minutes.

With about 30 working terminals in the Mary Stuart Common Room, the place almost seems empty and yet the warden and the deputy Dean of Students for Makerere University both say the turn-up has been very high, unexpectedly so. Mrs. Buga Winifred, the Deputy Dean of Students said, “The voter turn out has been so low over the years because of the long lines, and the whole tallying process which sometimes goes on deep into the night. And there has been a constant worry and appeal about vote rigging and election malpractice. With this system we are hoping to attract people back to the polls to vote for the leaders they want.”

However because the system relies on electric power supply the constant load shedding has been a slight hindrance which Mr. Jurua Benon has been remedied by having a standby generator at all polling stations. The fact that the results are available within ten minutes of the conclusion of the voting process is perhaps the biggest relief this system will bring to the election landscape. But perhaps the biggest change is the sensitization process that must inevitably go into convincing the voters that the system is the way to go. Also perhaps more importantly but so often over looked, the fact that most students are not computer literate as the elections have shown.

There has been a lot of skepticism about the reliability of computer systems and while the system engineers at CIT led by Software Programmer and Developer Brian Kitaka have confidence in it, there seem to be mixed feelings about the infallibility of the system. So in the just conclude election the Voting processes, the system was used in the elections for the CIT student President; Mary Stuart, University Hall, Nkurumah, Nsibirwa, Africa, Livingstone, and Complex student halls of residence. It sis hoped that by the next election season, the system will be used in the Universiy Student Guild Elections.

Students using the E-Voting system in Mary Stuart.