Biometric machines in Afghan vote improve after last year's glitches

KABUL (Reuters) - Biometric machines aimed at preventing fraud in Afghanistan’s presidential election performed better than in a poll last year but still left voters waiting a long time to cast their ballots, election observers said on Saturday.

Afghan election commission workers count ballot papers of the presidential election in Kabul, Afghanistan September 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

The machines were used for the first time in the October parliamentary poll, when many malfunctioned or failed to work altogether. Chaos during that vote was blamed on the machines’ performance, along with incomplete voting lists and delays in holding the election.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) decided to use the machines during the presidential election but gave staff more training and issued spare batteries for the devices at each of the polling centers in a country with chronic power shortages.

Polling stations, which each had one device, had paper registration forms as backup in case biometric verification failed.

“The technology improved a little bit, so it is not as bad as the parliamentary election,” said Naem Ayubzada, director of Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan, which observed polls in all 34 provinces.

He said machines could still take up to 10 minutes to identify a voter, although he said problems of identification were often the result of registration problems, while some women were deterred by the machines’ facial recognition software.

In conservative areas of Afghanistan, most adult women and older girls cover their faces outside the home.

The machines, made by Germany’s Dermalog Identification Systems, use fingerprint scans and photos to identify voters before they cast their ballots to reduce fraud that has been widespread in Afghan votes since the 2001 fall of the Taliban.

“The process is too lengthy,” Shaharzad Akbar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said on Twitter about the biometric identification process.

Hawa Alam Nuristani, head of the IEC, said any issues with the machines would be addressed in future.

Dermalog could not be reached for comment outside normal German office hours.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Kabul; Additional reporting by Rupam Jain and Orooj Hakimi; Editing by Edmund Blair