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South Africa: tech to play key role at the polls

South Africa: tech to play key role at the polls

Voting through the use of a paper ballot in South Africa's 2016 Municipal Elections is already underway countrywide according to the country's Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). While it is still not possible to vote electronically in South Africa - despite assurances by experts that this can be done, technology will play an important role during this year's elections.

Nkululeko Nxasana, Director of Government Programmes for Southern Africa at Gemalto has previously urged greater use of technology for voter registration and authentication as well as voting on digital platforms in South Africa.

"While technology is never the whole solution, governments should see it – and use it – as a critical enabler when it comes to elections. The state of the art technology now available can ensure transparency across the voting process, as well as improve the security and authenticity of voters' data. As such, it allows governments to focus on their mandate of delivery to the people, as opposed to becoming caught up in registration and identity issues,''

The use of technology by the IEC in the 2016 election includes eProcurement which gives users immediate scoring feedback. Suppliers have to get online in order to register and submit quotations, tenders and unsolicited proposals.Once registered, suppliers can interface with the IEC via the internet and WAP. The Electoral Commission has also launched a mobile app, 3D digital game and several social media accounts to keep voters informed.

Telecommunications company, Telkom has been tasked to provide ICT services on behalf of the IEC during the 2016 Municipal elections.

Jacqui O'Sullivan, Managing Executive: Group Communications and Public Relations for the Telkom Group says they will provide a variety of ICT solutions at every point of the electoral chain, from the local voting station to the National Results Centre. Telkom is responsible for securing the delivery of ballot results from over 22 000 polling stations around South Africa to the National Results Operation Centre (NROC) through nearly 350 Municipal Election Offices (MEOs), 9 Provincial Results Operation Centres (PRCs) and the IEC's Headquarters (IEC HQ).

"As a partner of the Electoral Commission since the first South African elections with universal franchise in 1994, we're proud to continue the tradition of supporting democracy in South Africa. Free and fair elections are an essential component of our democracy. ICT is a vital tool for enhancing and validating the electoral process."

Telkom is also providing a network of open access free Wi-Fi hotspots in almost 1000 voting stations around the country. The company says this pilot programme will utilise Telkom's existing LTE/4G infrastructure with plans for expansion for future elections, if successful. Telkom will also serve broadcasters and media channels through the use of dedicated Internet links. The solution includes access for the IEC's Wide Area Network (WAN) through Telkom's Virtual Private Network Services (VPNS) platform, which uses multiple access mediums, including satellite technology, Diginet/Martis, Metro LAN, Telkom's ADSL and ISDN (Primary and Basic Rate) architecture according to the company.

"To this end Telkom's extensive national footprint, ubiquitous network and the depth of skills and expertise within the organisation have facilitated the customer-specific requirements of the IEC," summed O'Sullivan.

Telkom's Data Centre at its Centurion Headquarters forms part of the IEC's Disaster Recovery (DR) measures. The Data Centre works as a mirror image of the IEC's Head Office, with all data activities at the IEC HQ replicated in real time.

In the unlikely event of disaster at IEC HQ, the DR site will take over all activities and the elections will proceed uninterrupted according to Telkom. The company says that its voice and data solution to be used by the IEC during the 2016 Municipal Elections will help speed up some processes that might have taken several days in the past.

Free and fair

While electronic voting itself is not a reality in South Africa, Gemalto's Nxasana's is of the view that extensive use of technology is a way to ensure that the electoral process is free and fair.

"Our experience in providing solutions to electoral bodies in Gabon, Benin, Burkina Faso and Algeria among others, has demonstrated just how many of these challenges can be addressed by the latest technologies. In Burkina Faso in 2012 for example, we rolled out 3 500 biometric enrolment stations in 10 weeks, as well as training 3 800 operators. One of the most important elements here was to ensure that the mobile units would synchronise with the central database easily as soon as connectivity was possible."

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