Technology can play a vital role in ensuring fair elections

A man casts vote in a transparent ballot box
File photo

The use of technology can be considered an extremely important factor in Bangladesh’s 12th parliamentary election. There are all sorts of confusions and concerns about the election system and the election itself in the minds of the public and among the different political parties. The application of technology can play an important role in ensuring an election that is credible and fair. Technology can facilitate holding a flawless election process and conducting a credible election.

Firstly, clashes often break out in the polling centres, leading to questions concerning the management within the centres. Under such circumstances, it is not possible to conduct a free voting process. All sorts of complaints are often issued in this regard but no solution can be reached due to the lack of evidence.

But it will be possible to resolve this problem to a great extent if technology is introduced to bring about certain changes, leading to transparency. If CCTVs are installed in each and every centre, then this will serve as a considerable obstacle to such disruptions. It will be a deterrent to those planning to create chaos.

Visible vote counting increases the transparency of the election process.

Also, if there is any form of chaos, accurate evidence will be readily available. This will enable a probe into any allegation and solid proof will be there. Also if there are measures for central monitoring by means of the CCTVs, there can be immediate intervention if any incident takes place. If necessary, the voting can be suspended as in 2022 when voting in almost one-third of the centres in the Gaibandha-5 (Sagata-Fulchhari) by-election was suspended due to allegations of irregularities in the voting.

Secondly, there are also apprehensions and suspicions over vote counting. It is essential for polling agents to be present during the counting. While the votes are being counted, if this would be visible to the public on large monitors outside of the centres, then the transparency of the counting process could be ensured. All parties and the general public would be able to watch the entire process. This would prevent rigging during the counting of the votes.

As soon as vote counting is over, real-time updates will apprise everyone of the latest results. Visible vote counting increases the transparency of the election process. The voters, the candidates and the observers all can directly observe the counting process and this can assuage suspicions about rigging or fraud.

Thirdly, it is seen in most cases that after the counting is over in a centre and the figures are announced, when the tabulation is done at the other levels, the figures do not tally. In order to resolve this problem, if the votes at each centre can be recorded on the central website, it will be possible to avoid rigging. The updates of the counting can be immediately recorded on the central website, which will curtail the time taken in conventional reporting methods. This immediacy will keep everyone updated about the latest results.

In many instances, if there is an outbreak of chaos in remote areas, it is not possible to immediately inform the law enforcement. In order to tackle this problem, a software called Ushahidi was developed for the elections in Kenya and we can develop a similar one for our country. This will make it possible to immediately and speedily contact the law enforcement agencies.

Artificial Intelligence or AI can be a powerful tool to ensure the integrity of the election and to enhance security. Training can be provided to use algorithms to determine any abnormal behavioural patterns in the election process. This will make it easier to thwart possible fraud. For instance, AI can identify abnormal voting patterns, such as if there is an abnormally high number of votes counted for one particular candidate, the matter can immediately be determined and checked. AI can be used to crosscheck the details of any voter and match it with the voter registration database of the government to catch out false voters.

Ballot papers are extensively used unscrupulously. If every voter could be identified by fingerprint, then instances of counting votes of voters who are long dead or similar discrepancies can be caught out. Fingerprints can be linked to the central database or to district databases.

The use of blockchains can ensure transparency in vote tabulation. Every vote and interaction is recorded on the blockchain and this ensures that once data is entered there, it cannot be changed or erased without approval of the network. Blockchain can be used to safely transfer and store election results. This eliminates the possibility of the results being changed or hampered in transition. For the first time in the world, a blockchain-based election system was run in Sierra Leone on 7 March 2018.

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The media plays an important role in providing the people with unbiased and accurate information to ensure a fair election. The media should give priority to objective reports. The media should provide facts in a proper manner without being biased towards any candidate or party. It is essential to verify the accuracy of information in order to avoid spreading false information. The media can be linked to established data websites or the media can verify the figures from there. Fact checking must be given importance in all cases so that it is possible to provide accurate data and information.

Artificial intelligence, blockchains and digital platforms can be used to resolve longstanding problems than make the election questionable. These technologies are not costly. This is an opportunity for Bangladesh to use its resources wisely and modernize its election system to promote a transparent and inclusive democratic process.

* Maj. Gen. ANM Muniruzzaman (Retd) is president, Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies