The recently completed presidential election in Somaliland was the world’s first to use iris recognition to create a voter registration list and remove duplicate names from the rolls. The iris-based biometric technology, from Iris ID, helped ensure a free and fair election, so important for the autonomous state to gain the international recognition it seeks.
A 60-member team of international observers, representing 27 countries, certified the November election as free and fair – a change from previous elections in which duplicate registrations led to questions about the legitimacy of the results. Somaliland, located on the Horn of Africa, declared its independence from Somalia in 1991. “In a world-first, these elections employed pioneering iris-recognition technology to register and identify voters, which is a testament to Somaliland’s commitment to its resources in democratic institutions and the rule of law,” said the new president, Muse Bihi Abdi, in a column for the Financial Times.
NEC uses biometric technology
Somaliland’s National Electoral Commission reported an 80 percent turnout for the election. The NEC spent several years preparing for the vote, including the process of choosing a biometric technology to register citizens. Commission members wanted a system capable of noting those registering more than once. Both fingerprint facial recognition systems failed to recognise many duplicate registrations in the program’s early stages.
At the recommendation of international election consultants, the commission tried an iris-based system. In a trial project, the Iris ID technology was able to accurately recognise all 457 instances of duplicates seeded into a base of 1,062 registrations. Experts estimate as many as 30,000 duplicates were identified during the countrywide registration. De-duplication was possible using Iris ID software which compared the high-quality biometric data from the iris scans.
Enrollment speed works in Iris ID’s favour
Enrollment speed also worked in Iris ID’s favor. Roy Dalle Vedove, a prominent international elections specialist and NEC consultant, said the iris-based system was not only more accurate than fingerprint technology, but also cut the time needed to register a voter in half. “The fingerprint technology slowed the process, resulting in long lines of people wanting to resister,” he said. “As a result, registration officials were inclined to circumvent controls to speed the process.”
After selecting the Iris ID technology, the NEC and purchased 350 portable registration kits consisting of a laptop computer, handheld iris scanner, webcam for facial photos, a flash and tripod. Registration stations were set up across the country – many in remote rural areas. Once approved, citizens received a temporary certificate until their national voter card was processed.
Iris ID provided Somaliland with a sophisticated voter registration system
Somaliland is now set to become a regional powerhouse in the production and deployment of the technological know-how that underpins electronic voting, wrote Calestous Juma in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper. Juma is a professor of the Practice of International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University. “Somaliland’s application in improving governance is the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote. “It creates exciting possibilities for the continent to provide leadership in other areas of technological advancement.”
Mohammed Murad, vice president global sales and business development for Iris ID, said he expects the success in Somaliland to spur the use of iris-based voter registration system in other countries. “The Iris ID system provided Somaliland with the most sophisticated voter registration system in Africa – really anywhere in the world,” he said.