Tomorrow’s parliamentary vote will use biometric voter verification machines, the first time ever in an Afghan election. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has said the use of these machines in every polling station will boost transparency and deter fraud. Yet questions abound. The decision was made at the last minute and because of political pressure. There are concerns that the system can trace fraud, but not prevent it, and that its linking of (encrypted) voter data to ballot papers raises questions about the secrecy of the vote. The IEC, in the meantime, seems mainly to have been preoccupied with the logistical task of actually receiving and shipping the devices to the provinces. On the eve of the election, AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili, lays out the new procedures and delves into the host of new problems which the new system could spawn (with input from Martine van Bijlert).
AAN has put together a dossier of dispatches related to the coming elections, looking at preparations and political manoeuvring. Each dispatch in the Election Conundrum series will be added to it.
What exactly did the IEC decide? A last-minute compromise
In a last-minute decision, only about one month before the election, the IEC decided to procure, ship and distribute 22,000 biometric devices to verify the identity of voters at polling stations on election day. In its official decision of 3 October 2018, the IEC said the last-minute change was made “to ensure more transparency, mitigate fraud and gain public confidence in the electoral process.” This was also reflected in its outreach video released on its Facebook page on 14 October 2018, only six days before the poll. Observers criticised the decision as hasty. Yusuf Rashid of Free and Fair Elections Afghanistan (FEFA) told AAN on 16 October 2018 that such a last-minute decision could have been justified if there had been previous technological infrastructure investment, expertise, and experience, all of which were absent. He called the decision unprofessional: “The IEC started from zero andon a much too short notice.”
However, the IEC had come under increasing pressure as it became clear that its new voter registration drive, that was implemented earlier this year (see here), had not resulted in a clean database of voters. A large number of political parties joined forces and – impractically – called for a completely new biometric voter registration. The current decision appeased the demands of the political parties, but has not solved the election’s looming problems to do with
How did the IEC come to its decision? Political party demands
At a conference in Kabul on 24 February 2018, the leaders and officials of 21 political parties and groups gathered to demand a change to the electoral system. (1) At the time, they were not yet calling for biometric voter registration. The IEC rejected their demand and gave a statement that, “Changing the electoral system at this sensitive time would seriously affect the preparations for the upcoming elections, and probably may [sic] result in delaying the elections.” On 25 March 2018, the political parties reiterated their position and threatened to reconsider their cooperation with the IEC if it continued to take “unconsidered stances.” (See AAN’s previous report here)
On 14 July 2018, the leaders of the parties met again. (2) This time they called on the government and the IEC to suspend voter registration and use biometric technology to start voter registration anew, calling the manual voter registration “flawed and fraudulent” (see media reports here and here). The voter registration was launched on 14 April and ended on 6 July. (For details about its procedures, see AAN’s previous reporting here and here). The IEC was at the stage of verifying the registration at IEC headquarters when the parties made their call to suspend the whole process.
A joint committee was established on the president’s orders, to discuss the political parties’ demands; it consisted of representatives of the political parties, the government and the IEC, led by second Vice-President Sarwar Danesh. During one of the technical meetings, on 1 August 2018, a German company called Dermalog gave a presentation on the use of ‘biometric technology’. This was less than three months before the poll. (3) In the committee’s last of five meetings, on 5 August 2018, according to Danesh’s media office, the committee concluded that the government “had stressed the use of biometric technology in elections more than any other organisation in the past. Now if the IEC agrees, the government does not have any problem [with it] and also calls on the IEC to pave the way to use this technology in the [next] presidential election.” (emphasis added) See also here) (4)
On 8 August 2018, the IEC reiterated this same conclusion, saying that since only around 70 days were left before the election, it was no longer possible to procure and implement the necessary technology and promised to use technology in the presidential elections scheduled for 20 April 2019, to ensure more transparency.
However, the opposition did not accept the IEC’s reasoning and threatened to reject the results of an election which used the manual voter registration and in the absence of any change to the electoral system (see this Khabarnama report) quoting Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, head of the New National Front of Afghanistan, who satirically likened the manual registration system to “Mullah Nasruddin’s grave which had doors, but lacked three walls”. They reached out to more political groupings and on 8 August 2018 leaders and officials of the Grand National Coalition (5), the Council for Protection and Stability of Afghanistan (see the council’s background here) and independent figures issued a joint statement (see here and here) giving the government and the IEC a two-week ultimatum to (a) announce biometric voter registration for both the parliamentary and presidential elections; (b) change the electoral system to a multidimensional representation (MDR) system (background here); and (c) pave the way for political parties and civil society organisations to effectively monitor all electoral processes. After the two weeks passed without any result, the parties announced the launch of a “civil disobedience campaign” (media report here).
In mid-August 2018, President Ashraf Ghani issued a decree tasking the Central Statistics Office (CSO) with buying “modern technology” to verify the exact number of voters (media report here). It was unclear at the time what the decree referred to and whether this would include a biometric identification system. On 29 August, during a demonstration in Kabul, the political parties said they would continue their protests until their demands were met (media report here and here).
On 1 September 2018, the Grand National Coalition increased the pressure as it displayed to the media what it said were “thousands” of fake tazkeras with voter registration confirmation stickers. The tazkeras had photos of well-known government officials, MPs and deceased people, and included multiple documents with the same pictures on them. The coalition said it had collected the fake documents with the help of IEC employees (although it was not clear how the IEC employees themselves had obtained them).The Afghanistan Central Civil Registration Authority (ACCRA) responded by saying that the tazkeras the Grand National Coalition had displayed had no legal validity and called on the security and judicial agencies to investigate how the coalition had got hold of them and identify the perpetrators of the forgery. A day later, on 2 September 2018, the IEC tried to reassure the public that it had “created a database in which all voter registration books that had been sent to polling centres in the provinces, districts and villages are recorded and can be tracked.” (6) The IEC further accused the Grand National Coalition of trying to sabotage the national election process and of disturbing public opinion.
This did not end the commotion. On 3 September, BBC Persian claimed it had been able to verify that several of the fake tazkeras and stickers displayed by the Grand National Coalition had been entered into the IEC’s database. According to the BBC report, it had taken 50 fake tazkera and 35 election stickers to the IEC where they were checked against the database in the presence of IEC commissioner Mazallah Dawlati and head of the IEC’s technology department Ibrahim Sadat. All five tazkeras that were checked were found in the system. In one case, the report said, three fake tazkeras had been made for one individual, with all details recorded in the system. The IEC’s Sadat was quoted as saying that there might be tens of thousands of such tazkeras and they may have been entered into the IEC database. On 4 September, President Ghani appointed a “competent commission” led by the Attorney General’s Office to investigate fraud in the distribution of tazkeras.
On 15 September 2018, supporters of the Grand National Coalition forcibly closed the IEC offices in three ‘heavyweight’ provinces: Herat, Balkh and Kandahar (media reports here and here). The Herat office was re-opened by force on the same day, on the order of Herat’s provincial police chief General Aminullah Amarkhel. The police dispersed the protestors by firing shots in the air, and rolled up their protest tent, injuring and arresting some people in the process (see AAN’s previous reporting from Herat here). Senior deputy interior minister for security Akhtar Muhammad Ibrahimi told the media on 15 September that he had ordered security forces in the provinces to not allow any person or group to close provincial offices, telling them they could “use force if necessary.” On 17 September 2018, however, the coalition’s supporters proceeded to shut down the IEC office in Nangrahar (media report here). All this happened at a very crucial time, when the IEC offices had to be in full swing in order to prepare for the looming elections.
On 19 September 2018, the IEC made its first move towards public acceptance of the political parties’ demands when IEC chairman Abdul Badi Sayyad told a press conference: “We are currently in contact with different companies for the biometric registration of voters on the parliamentary election day.” Sayyad added that their only concern was that the election process should continue to be controlled by the IEC (media report here) – seemingly a reference to concerns that they might be forced to outsource a key component of the vote to other government institutions or private companies. On 22 September, less than a month before the poll, IEC spokesman Hafizullah Hashemi told the media that the IEC’s assessment of one biometric system on 20 October had been completed “by up to 70 per cent, but there are still questions. We hope we can find answers for them.” He also hinted that Dermalog would be the company providing the technology as he said that a German company had presented its proposals for a biometric system and that discussion on this was ongoing.
On 24 September 2018, the Grand National Coalition announced that two of their major demands had been accepted and that they had allowed the reopening of the IEC provincial offices they had closed down. Muhammad Nateqi of the of the Grand Coalition told AAN that although biometric voter verification on election day had not been their first option, the parties had “accepted it out of necessity.”
What did the IEC do after it decided to go biometric?
On 27 September 2018, the IEC announced that 4,000 sets of biometric devices had arrived in Kabul and 18,000 other sets would be delivered shortly – this happened on 5 or 6 October 2018 (see here. All of this happened while, as reported by the president’s office, the contract was only approved four days later, on 1 October. On 10 October 2018, IEC spokesman Hafizullah Hashemi announced that 10,000 – almost half – of the biometric devices had been charged, updated with local languages and packaged. (7)
IEC chair Gula Jan Abdul Badi Sayyad told a number of political parties on 14 October 2018, less than one week before the poll, that all the biometric devices had been sent to 33 provinces (Ghazni is not holding parliamentary elections) after having been “received and activated.” He also said the company had provided two servers to the IEC, which would be “installed and activated by technical personnel of the company in the next few days.” This was echoed by IEC spokesman Hafizullah Hashemi who told a press conference on the same day that the devices had been delivered to the 33 provinces and their transportation to the districts would be completed by the end of the week.
In the meantime, on 3 October 2018, the IEC signed its official decision to use biometric voter verification. Itapproved an annex to the polling and vote-counting procedures, on how to use the devices, on 7 October 2018 – less than two weeks before election day.
What will the biometric machines do?
The biometric machines do not replace the old, manual voter registration or the manual voting system. Instead, they represent an attempt to introduce an additional anti-fraud measure, following questions about the integrity of manual voter registration, and the pressure from political parties. At the polling station, a voter’s biometric data is registered before he or she casts their vote. The data is then entered both into a central database and printed and attached – in encrypted form – to the ballot paper. According to the IEC, this will enable them to identify those who vote more than once, and to invalidate duplicate votes and ballots that are without biometric verification sticker or that have fraudulent voter details.
According to the IEC’s new procedures (the main parts of which have been reproduced in the annex to this dispatch, below), the biometric voter verification machines are configured to capture the following data:
- Fingerprints of both the right and left index fingers (90 per cent of the finger should be placed on the machine to minimise error; if a voter does not have an index finger, the fingerprint of the thumb of the same hand will be captured; if the voter does not have a thumb either, the fingerprint of any other finger of the same hand will be captured; if a voter does not have any fingers, a photo is mandatory, regardless of whether the voter is male or female);
- Photo of the voter’s face with a voting screen in the background to show that it was taken at a polling station – optional for women (8);
- Photo of the voter’s tazkera and the voter registration confirmation sticker that was fixed on the voter’s tazkera during the latest round of voter registration;
- A printed QR code sticker that includes the polling centre code, the date of voting, the time of voting, a unique code and an encrypted QR image (see the IEC’s 3 October decision for more details.
The data capture will be carried out by the biometric registration officer (previously the queue controller) of the polling station, who will then guide the voter to the ballot paper issuer. The ballot paper issuer will be responsible for:
- Preparing a ballot paper for the voter
- Inking the index finger of the voter
- Collecting the biometric certificate (QR sticker) from the printer
- Attaching the biometric certificate (QR sticker) on the top left side of the stamp on the back of the ballot paper.
- Giving the ballot paper to the voter and guiding him/her to the voting booth.
According to the IEC, ballot papers that do not have a QR sticker will be invalidated, as will multiple votes (that have been cast under the same identity). Both the IEC procedures and the publicity campaign say that only the first of any multiple votes will be valid. The other duplicate votes will be invalidated and the violators “will be prosecuted.” But there are doubts as to whether the IEC will be able or willing to implement this stringently, particularly if irregularities are widespread, as was the case in previous elections.
What if the biometric machines are not used or not used properly?
First, there is the concern over what happens if machines are not delivered to the polling stations or if IEC employees fail to operate them properly, or at all. On 13 October, a week before the election, IEC deputy spokesman Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi told Hasht-e Sobh that the IEC would train 125,000 employees on how to use the system by Wednesday 17 October. Experts, however, doubt the quality of the training and whether all employees will have indeed learned how to operate the machines in such a short period of time. Added to this is the concern that the machines have not gone through proper field testing, a common necessary practice when preparing to use new technology in elections.
The rules also appear to have been made on the fly, with still some room for ‘discretion’. On 7 October 2018, IEC spokesman Hashemi said that the IEC had decided to accept only the votes of the people registered on biometric devices, but that the IEC had not yet decided what to do if biometric devices were not delivered to all polling stations on time, or if the devices became dysfunctional. “If any problem happens with the transportation [of the devices] or any other problem arises,” said Hashemi, “the commission will make a decision on the day.”
The IEC’s annex on the voting and counting procedures says that:
The use of biometric machine is mandatory at each polling station. If the biometric machine in a polling station stops functioning for any reason or has not been delivered to a polling station due to problems, the contingency biometric machines or biometric machines of another polling station shall be used.
However, it does not state what should be done if no functioning machine can be found, or what the IEC will do with the voting data if IEC staff do not (properly) use the machines.
Although the IEC has stated that it will invalidate all ballots that do not carry a proper QR sticker, it may find this difficult to uphold if this affects large numbers of polling stations or certain areas more than others. In past elections, safeguards and fraud triggers were often abandoned when it turned out that large portions of the polling station staff – intentionally or unintentionally – had not followed procedures. As one international expert highlighted in a conversation with AAN, all these questions mean that the IEC has “stored up many difficult decisions.”
Moreover, it turns out that the machines can be deliberately misused. On 4 October 2018, Tolo TV reported that the head of the CSO had called the devices that were just coming into the country “flawed,” as it turned out they could record duplicate voters without alerting anyone. CSO head Ahmad Jawid Rasuli said that if a voter registered on one device twice, it would show that he or she had already voted, but if that voter went to another polling station, they would be able to vote there. He also said that it would only be possible to detect the duplicate or multiple votes only after the votes had been counted and that it would be up to the IEC officials whether they discarded the duplicate votes or added them to the total.
Muhammad Nateqi, a member of the Grand National Coalition, told AAN on 16 October that when they tested the device at the IEC, they found that voters could vote more than 45 times by playing around with their fingerprints, registering more than once by using different fingers each time. He said thatthe machine still printed the QR stickers, as if the identification had been valid. (9)
In response to these issues, the political parties raised their concerns on 6 October 2018, They demanded that (a) the biometric technology should be used online wherever there is internet, as offline use could lead to a huge wave of duplicate and invalid votes which would cause a lot of problems when they have to be cleared after the data is loaded onto the central server; (b) biometric verification should be used countrywide and that from polling stations where the biometric fingerprint was not carried out, the votes should be invalidated; (c) political parties and civil society organisations should be allowed to fully observe the central database to ensure that the separation of valid votes from duplicate ones was not manipulated and that there should be a separate audit of the ballot boxes in which there were duplicate votes and the audit of the boxes in which the number of ballots differed from the biometric statistics; (d) the fingerprint of two index fingers and the photo of the voter and their tazkera should be mandatory; (e) because the manual voter registration with its stickers was plagued by fraud and a large number of people had not been able to register, every eligible Afghan should have the right to vote at any polling stations by providing an identification document on polling day.
Some of their demands appear to be IEC policy, although it is not clear to what extent they will be upheld, while others – in particular the wish that all Afghans regardless of their registration status should be allowed to vote – do not seem to have been accepted. There is however still a considerable lack of clarity, as the rules were hastily made while the IEC scrambled to make this happen in time.
Who is in charge of the biometric system?
There has also been a lack of clarity, and some concerns, over who would be in charge of the implementation of the system and the management of the data. Yusuf Rashid of FEFA wondered whether the IEC would undertake the management of the biometric or if it was some special company. If a special company had the responsibility for the biometric voter verification on the election day, he said, the political and legal credibility of the company should be carefully reviewed. Muhammad Nateqi of the Grand National Coalition raised the question of whether the IEC would guarantee that the gathered data would not be handed over to any group or agency and said it had to specify where the final data would be collected and kept.
On 27 September, Ahmad Jawid Rasuli, the head of the CSO, reiterated that the biometric technology belonged to the IEC and that no other agencies, including the CSO, could access its data. He told the media that “No agency has access to the [biometric] system. We alone had the responsibility to provide it.” On the same day, IEC officials stressed that the IEC itself had “collected all equipment directly from the airport, so no other organization could meddle in the process” and that it would be the IEC that would employ the biometric operators on election day.
However, the management of the system is obviously more than just the physical custody of the devices. AAN’s conversations with both national and international sources have, for instance, shown that the CSO has been the main agency in charge of the procurement and has been most closely aware of the details. This was illustrated when, during a joint meeting of the IEC, CSO, civil society organisations and donors on 26 September 2018, the IEC commissioners asked the head of the CSOto provide information on how the system would be used on election day.
IEC officials have insisted that the biometric devices are secure and that no one will be able to access the data even if they are stolen. This was said in response to concerns that strongmen or local commanders could take them and meddle with the data. (Media report here). However, since the details of the contract are not known and it was not the IEC that determined the specifications of the biometric solutions or carried out the procurement, there is a question as to who controls the coding and programming of the machines and the servers. AAN’s conversations show that Dermalog’s engineers and technicians have been at the IEC in Kabul to assist in setting up the server. However, they will apparently not be in the country on election day, in a bid to dispel concerns about the ownership of the system. This could be problematic, if problems arise.
There have also been questions about the quality of the devices and the process of procurement. On 11 October 2018, Tolonews reported that the devices that had been delivered differed from the samples that had been shown to the IEC by the government before it signed the contract with Dermalog. For instance, these biometric devices, Tolo said, do not bear Dermalog’s logo and the power bank and chargers are “made in China.” This has led to doubts as to the quality and specification of the delivered devices.
The contract that was signed with Dermalog has, moreover, not been made public and there is no clarity about the way the procurement was done. However, it appears to have been single-source and without a regular tender procedure. This is allowed only under certain conditions. (10) A National Procurement Authority press release on 16 October 2018 called it a “government to government (G2G) contract” with both the German company and the German government assuring the standardisation of the devices and systems. German embassy officials in Kabul have, however, told AAN that Berlin was not in the deal and that the biometric machines were not part of their government’s official assistance to the Afghan government.(11) Other donor sources also told AAN that the money for the devices had not been taken from the funds they contributed for the elections through UNDP. It seems that the procurement was financed from the government’s own budget. (12)
A whole host of new concerns
In an attempt to address rising concerns over a faulty registration process, the IEC has introduced a new anti-fraud system that has a host of concerns of its own. So far, nobody has had the time – or the information – to fully assess or prepare for the possible problems this might cause.
First, there is the concern over what will happen if the machines are not delivered to the polling centres, if they are delivered but not used, and if they are not used properly. The IEC says they will invalidate all ballots without the required QR sticker, but they may be forced to rethink this if the number of invalidations becomes very high.
Second, there is a continuing concern over multiple voting, as several tests have shown that devices will accept registrations that have already been made on other machines and duplicate registrations by those playing around with fingerprints and photographs to get multiple QR stickers. It is not clear how strong the capacity of the servers is to recognise such duplications. Moreover, there seems to be a fair amount of discretion where the IEC can decide how stringently they want to track and address the irregularities that the system could find.
Third, there is concern about the lack of clarity regarding what will happen to the data after the elections. It is also not clear whether the data can or will be used to clean up the voter list ahead of the presidential election, slated to be held on 20 April 2019.
Fourth, there are concerns around who has control over and access to the system and its data. Since the details of the contract are not known and it was not the IEC that carried out the procurement, there is a question about who controls the coding and programming of the machines, as well as the servers. The last-minute decision to change the procedures, against the IEC’s wishes, appears to have further undermined the IEC’s independence and its control over the electoral processes and materials used for the elections. There is moreover a complete lack of clarity on how immune – or not – the system is to hacking, especially given that this has become a growing reality and concern, globally.
Fifth,the constitution (as well as the electoral law) stresses that elections, voting and ballot should be “free, general, secret and direct.” Given the fact that a sticker with – albeit encrypted – voter data will be fixed to each ballot paper, the secrecy of the vote appears to be under question. This is especially the case as the QR image can be read with the right software. AAN’s conversations with different interlocutors within the international community show that this concern has still not been resolved.
Finally, the last-minute decision to use biometric verification has led to a fair amount of ambiguity which could easily be – and, on past record usually is – exploited. It is also debatable whether the last-minute changes were legal given the fact that article 19 of the electoral law stipulates that the IEC cannot amend the laws and procedures during the electoral process.
The biometric machines are intended to mitigate fraud, but they have changed the rules of the game at the last-minute, complicated the voting procedure and added major concerns.
(1) These are the 21 parties that first coalesced around these demands in February 2018. Since then, they claim that the number has increased up to 35 (see here).
- [Hezb-e] Eqtedar-e Melli
- Afghan Mellat
- [Hezb-e] Paiwand-e Melli
- Jabha-ye Nawin-e Melli Afghanistan
- Jabha-ye Nejat-e Melli Afghanistan
- Jamiat-e Islami Afghanistan
- Jombesh-e Melli Islami Afghanistan
- Herasat-e Islami Afghanistan [previously known as Hezb-e Wahdat-e Melli Islami-ye Afghanistan]
- Harakat-e Islami Afghanistan
- Harakat-e Islami-ye Mutahed Afghanistan
- Harakat-e Enqelab-e Islami Mardom-e Afghanistan
- Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan [both Hekmatyar and Arghanidwal factions]
- Hezb-e Islami-ye Mutahed Afghanistan
- Hezb-e Etedal-e Afghanistan
- [Hezb-e] Haq wa Adalat
- Rawand-e Hefazat az Arzeshha-ye Jihad wa Muqawamat
- Hezb-e Qeyam-e Melli Afghanistan
- Mahaz-e Melli Islami Afghanistan
- Nahzat-e Hambastagi-ye Melli Afghanistan
- [Hezb-e] Wahdat-e Islami Afghanistan
- [Hezb-e] Wahdat-e Islami Mardom-e Afghanistan
(2) Those attending the meeting were: Hezb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; Jamiat-e Islami leader and foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani; Hezb-e Islami Wahdat-e Mardom leader and deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqeq; son of Jombesh-e Melli leader and first Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum, Bator Dostum; representative of former President Hamed Karzai, Zerar Ahmad Moqbel; member of Council for Protection and Stability Yunus Qani; leader of Hezb-e Mahaz-e Melli Sayyed Hamed Gilani, and head of New National Front of Afghanistan Anwar-ul Haq Ahadi. (see here.)
(3) Sayyed Mosavi, the chief executive officer of MyICT, a local partner of Dermalog, told AAN on 17 October that Dermalog and MyICT had been approached by “friends in the government, political parties and the IEC” in July 2018 to offer a biometric solution, since they had also submitted a proposal for hybrid technology when the government had earlier explored the use of full biometric technology (for details on the earlier decision to implement “plan B” – manual instead of biometric voter registration – see AAN’s previous reporting here). Mosavi said that they had, in the end, not participated in the earlier – biometric registration and polling – bid “since the IEC had wanted to purchase only the hardware, not the solutions. It simply wanted to buy 8,000 devices, whereas the trump card in these devices is the solution that provides the possibility of de-duplication.” A similar concern was communicated by Smartmatic, a company that had also been an early contender to provide an “integrated technology-based solution proposal” to address electoral fraud. In a 5 September 2018 letter to the IEC, which AAN has seen, Smartmatic wrote that it would not participate in the tender as “the way it was structured exposed the automation project to a high risk of implementation failure” since it did not include essential implementation services, but simply involved the purchase of “off the shelf hardware.” A similar case – hardware without proper fraud prevention and de-duplication solutions – could be made for the current approach that has been chosen.
(4) With respect to the parties’ demand to change the voting system from SNTV to MDR, the vice-president’s media office reported that the committee had concluded that this proposal “in addition to the time constraints, has its own complexity and thus, requires a broad national debate. Even if this proposal could be passed through a presidential legislative decree, it might still be rejected by the parliament. Therefore, the best way is that the [next] Afghan parliament [should] decide about changing the electoral system.”
(5) The Grand National Coalition was launched on 26 July (media report here). It is an expansion of the proto ‘Ankara coalition’ that was formed in June 2017 (AAN background here) to include the New National Front (AAN background here), Mehwar-e Mardom (AAN background here) and influential figures from the Greater Kandahar Unity and Coordination Movement and the Eastern Provinces Coordination Council (AAN background here).
(6) The statement saidthe IEC was able to establish which registration books belonged to which polling centre, who had been responsible for transporting, distributing and using them and who had done the registration in each polling centre. The IEC also said that, based on reports it had received and using its tracking system, it had found that 60 registration books had gone missing or had been burned. The books had been tracked and invalidated and would not be included in the voter list.
(7) Deputy IEC spokesperson Kobra Rezayi told AAN on 17 October that the updates they made to the settings includedchanging the operating language into Dari and Pashto, and entering the province, district, polling centre and polling station (male or female). According to the IEC procedure, however, these are entries that need to be made at the polling stations on election day:
The IEC procedure tasks the queue controller with making the following entries after switching on the machine at the polling stations on elections day:
- Polling centre code
- Polling station code
- After switching on the biometric machine, the biometric registration officer should go to the statistics option and show the agents and observers that no data has been recorded.
At the end of the vote, the biometric registration officer will show the agents and observers how many voters have been recorded.
(8) On 3 October 2018, the IEC, in decision number 74-1397, determined that the taking of facial photographs of women would be optional. Three IEC members – deputy for operations Wasima Badghisi and commissioners Maliha Hassan and Mazallah Dawlati – disagreed with this decision.
(9) Mosavi of the MyICT told AAN that they had been told to offer a solution that was “cheap, simple and understandable to the public. It is a portable device. If the procedures are implemented and two index fingers are fingerprinted, it can prevent duplicate votes. The de-duplication can happen in two phases. The preliminary de-duplication can be performed by the devices at the polling stations, as it will show when the same fingers are entered [at that station]. After that, when the devices are retrieved and all data loaded into the server, the server can de-duplicate two similar fingers. The full de-duplication can be done by the server, but not on the elections day.” He also said that “a solution able to capture all ten fingers, iris and face would have been better, but we were told that due to limited budget and time, we should come up with a solution that could prevent ‘buji buji-level’ fraud [ie fraud on the level of gunnysack’, mass fraud, not just the odd individual].” He concurred with Nateqi, however, that “one person could deliver 35 to 45 patterns of fingerprints.” There is also the concern that the IEC’s decision not to photograph women will pave the way for fraudulent voting.
(10) According to rule 22 of the general procurement rules, such single-source procurement may only be used when: 1) a particular potential bidder has exclusive rights in respect to the provision of goods, works and services or the procurement can only be conducted from single source; 2) there is an emergency need for the goods, works or services, involving an imminent threat to public health, welfare or safety, or an imminent threat of damage to property, and engaging in open tendering proceedings or other procurement methods would be impracticable or; 3) where the estimated value of the procurement does not exceed 5,000 Afghanis (around 70 USD). (See the Dari version of the rules of procedure here); see also previous AAN reporting about a similar procurement by the IEC of tablets used for polling centre assessment here.
The political parties in their 6 October statement called on the government to share the contract with the people of Afghanistan so they could know the details.
(11) The NPA statement said that the contract “with the largest German company by the name of Dermalog Identification System” had been entered into “in collaboration with [CSO] … through a government to government (G2G) contract.” It further said that the total cost of “22,000 central biometric devices and systems including: printers, batteries, software, electoral stickers etc. is more than 18 million EUR paid by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. … Moreover; the contract will control and support [sic] by the Ministry of Finance (BUNDESDRUCKERE) of Germany.”
The German government is an indirect minority stakeholder in Dermalog, as a state-run printing company called Bundesrucherei has a 20 per cent share. German embassy officials told AAN that the company has knowledge and experience, designed the devices and the software itself and delivered the machines with “speed on a very short notice,” but that it might have partners in other countries. This was in response to the media reports that the delivered devices had been made in China.
Annex English translation of new procedures on using biometric machines
This is an English translation of an annex to the polling and vote counting procedure about using biometric machines. AAN obtained the original Dari version on 14 October from the head of the IEC legal department, Jafar Nuri. In this version, the queue controller of a polling station is tasked with capturing the biometric data, while in an earlier version that AAN had obtained, the biometric data capturing was assigned to the identification officer. In this version, the duties of queue controller have been given to the polling station chairperson. An international who was privy to the IEC internal discussion told AAN that that the IEC had been struggling to decide who should do the biometric data capturing. AAN is not sure if this is the final version to be applied tomorrow, 18 October. (In this translation, AAN excludes the introduction).
- A voter shall carry his/her citizenship tazkerabearing the voter registration confirmation sticker on the election day.
- No one has the right to take a photo or video of their own ballot or that of any other person. In order to adhere to the principle of the secrecy of the ballot and prevent its violation, carrying any photographic or video equipment behind the voting booth is prohibited.
(3) The body searcher is duty-bound to prevent voters from bringing in the above-mentioned equipment.
(4) The use of biometric machine is mandatory at each polling station. If the biometric machine at a polling station fails to function properly for any reason or has not been delivered due to problems, the contingency biometric machines or the biometric machines of another polling station shall be used.
The Biometric machine
The biometric machine to be used in the upcoming elections is an electronic device in which multiple types of data applications can be installed.
How to use the biometric machines:
Biometric registration will be conducted at exactly the third phase of the polling process by the biometric registration staff (who had been queue controller before):
- The biometric registration officer shall ensure that the biometric machine has been set in a way that the exact date and time of recording voter information into the biometric machine is set and [then] select the following options after switching on the biometric machine:
- Polling center code
- Polling station code
- After switching on the biometric machine, the biometric registration officer should go to the statistics option and assure the agents and observers that there is no [pre-]recorded data on it.
- At the end of the process, [the biometric registration officer] shall show the agents and observers how many voters have been recorded.
How to use the biometric QR of the biometric machines:
Use of printer:
- The printer shall be used for printing the biometric confirmation [QR code] for each voter. Once the biometric registration phases are completed, a biometric confirmation with an adhesive QR code will be printed for every voter.
- The biometric QR code certifying the presence of the voter will be printed and fixed onto the rear of the ballot paper to be used by the voter.
- The biometric confirmation will have a unique serial number for each voter which will show that the voter’s information has been recorded on the biometric machines. [The information] comprises the following information:
- Polling centre code
- Date of voting
- Time of voting
- Encrypted QR code
- After the completion of the biometric process, the biometric officer shall press the “print” option to print the biometric confirmation [sticker] using the printer.
- One biometric confirmation shall be printed for each voter. Re-printing of the biometric confirmation is not allowed.
- Attaching the biometric confirmation on the back of the ballot paper is mandatory.
- The first vote cast by those who have voted multiple times shall be valid and their remaining duplicate votes shall be invalidated.
- Anyone who has voted more than once shallbe identified and introduced to the Complaints Commission to be prosecuted in accordance with the electoral law.
1. The chairperson of the polling station, in addition to the duties specified in the Polling and Counting Procedure, shall also undertake to control the queue at the polling station.
2. The identification officer shall see the voter’s tazkera in accordance with the polling and counting procedure
- that it bears a voter registration confirmation sticker
- [he/she should] check the back of the tazkera with a special torch provided to [ensure] there is no sign of a pen whose ink is invisible [has been used].
- check the name of the voter is on the voters list and if it is on the list, mark it with (√)sign
- mark the left-hand side of the voter registration confirmation with a (√)sign with a pen whose ink is invisible.
- guide the voter to biometric registration officer
3. The biometric registration officer (who had previously been the queue controller[in earlier versions of the procedure]) shall ask the eligible voter to:
- Place the entire index fingers of both hands on the machine, first the index finger of the left hand and then the index finger of the right hand, in such a way that 90 per cent of the finger is placed on the machine to minimise the error.
- If the index finger of the voter is not available, the thumb of the same hand shall be used.
- If the thumb is not available, other fingers of the same hand shall be used.
- If fingers of neither hand are not available, no fingerprint shall be captured, and he/she shall be referred to the next option.
- After reading the fingerprints on the machine screen, the machine will record them and the biometric registration officer shall click on “next” to prepare the machine for taking facial photo of the voter.
- The voter’s photo shall be captured in a way that shows the voting booth in the background (the photo shall show that it has been captured at a polling station).
- After taking the facial photo, [the biometric registration officer] shall again click “next” to complete taking the photos of the tazkera and the voter registration confirmation number.
- S/he will take photo of the voter’s tazkera vertically.
- S/he will take a photo of the voter registration confirmation sticker on the back of the tazkera vertically.
Note: If both hands are not available, taking photos of both female and male voters is mandatory.
- The [biometric registration officer] shall go to the print option and guide the voter to the ballot paper issuer
4. The ballot paper issuer:
- The ballot paper issuer, in accordance with the polling and counting procedure, shall separate the ballot and show the voter how to fold the ballot
- Unfold the ballot again and remove the biometric confirmation sticker from the biometric machine printer
- Attach the sticker on top left side of the stamp on the back of the ballot .
- check the fingers of both hands of the voter to ensure that his/her fingers have not been inked with indelible ink before
- Clean the voter’s index finger with a handkerchief
- shake the ink bottle and then open it
- then put the index finger of right hands into the indelible ink bottle. The entire finger of the voter should be covered with ink and should touch inside the bottle
- ask the voter not to clean his/her index finger until the ink dries
- give the ballot paper to the voter and guide the voter to the polling booth Note: the voter shall use his/her vote behind the voting booth.
5. The Ballot box controller shall
- guide the voter in casting the ballot in the box
- tell the voter to take his/her tazkera and not put it inside the box
The photo will be used for facial recognition and the system will be able to identify duplicates based on fingerprint and facial photographs, photos of tazkeras, and photos of the voter registration confirmation sticker
- Taking photos of females shall be optional (unless they lack fingers).
- One minute has been considered [sufficient] for each voter [to vote].
Note: biometric machines are configured to work offline
Training of Biometric Staff
- The polling center managers will have the technical skills.
- The training process for biometric staff will be conducted using cascade training methodology as follows:
- The HQ trainers will train the IT staff.
- The provincial IT staff will train district electoral officers and their deputies.
- The district electoral officers and their deputies will train the polling centre managers, polling station chairpersons and the identification officers.
- The polling station chairpersons will train the ballot paper issuers, the ballot box officers and the queue controllers.
Spoiled Ballot Papers
If a ballot paper is spoiled for various reasons as mentioned in the polling and counting procedure, the ballot paper issuer will act as follows:
- Detach the biometric confirmation sticker from the spoiled ballot paper and re-attach it to the ballot paper to be issued to same voter. On the spoiled ballot paper, on the bottom of the area identified for attaching the biometric confirmation sticker, write “The biometric certificate is attached on a new ballot paper” and the issue shall also be recorded on the journal.
- Prior to the commencement of the counting process, the biometric registration officer shall open the statistics option in the biometric machine and show and read the information recorded on it to the agents and observers.
- Vote-counting shall be conducted in accordance with the relevant polling and counting procedure
- Pack the machine and place it in the relevant box, put the temper-evident barcode (TEB) of the polling station results on the biometric machine box
- The ballot papers lacking biometric confirmation stickers will be considered as invalid and counted as invalid votes.
Movement of Biometric Machines
Up to five biometric machines are put into an empty ballot box (without ballot papers) and sent to the provincial offices to be sent on to the districts and to polling centres and stations.
(The number of biometric machines equals the number of polling stations). At the end of the process, the biometric machines shall be put into empty ballot boxes (without ballot papers) again and sealed and along with other sensitive materials handed by the polling station chairperson to the polling centre manager, then to the district electoral officer and then transferred to the provincial office. The seal numbers like other sensitive materials shall be recorded in accordance with polling and counting procedures.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020