“If there is nothing mysterious or untoward about the use of the Social Media Analytics…

Qs & As
Registration of Voters

…Cloud by the Electoral Commission for the 2019 elections, why should the Electoral Commissioner deny it…?”

* ‘Computers were used in the 2019 elections but the Electoral Commission asserted that were not used for the counting the votes. Why were they there then?’

By Lex

The Electoral Commissioner’s Office is proceeding apace with its canvassing of electors in what must be the most antiquated method available, that is door to door checking of inhabitants at a fixed period in time. There have been numerous allegations that the 2019 exercise have either deprived some 7% of voters of their legitimate rights or, worse still, an unaccounted for 45,000 voters were ditched out of the register instead of 9,900 previously. We have failed to hear from the EC any plausible let alone convincing explanations regarding those serious failings or the controversial use of computer rooms during the 2019 counting process. Lex weighs in.

* According to the Section 4(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1958, only those persons having reached the age of 18 on 15 August in that year, and Commonwealth citizens (having resided in Mauritius for at least two years) are qualified to be registered as electors and to vote. That’s for qualification for registration as voters, but does the law make it an obligation for citizens, qualified by virtue of age, to get themselves registered as electors, and if so what would be the penalty for failure to do so?

There is nothing in the law that makes it an obligation on a citizen of 18 years or more to register as an elector. Just as there is no law that makes voting compulsory at an election.

* The tedious registration of electors process as prescribed by the Representation of the People Act 1958 may need to be revamped with the input of latest technology. There have also been calls expressed on the need to introduce a rolling register of voters so as to avoid excluding voters. That should not be a big deal in a small country like Mauritius as compared to what obtains in India where hundreds of millions of Indian citizens are duly registered by the Electoral Commission of India, isn’t it?

We cannot compare Mauritius with India. However, the system certainly needs to be revamped as it is an archaic system with shades of the colonial era. It is ridiculous to have public officers go from house to house to register electors or to confirm that their names appear on the electoral list. If the public officer does not meet with the people who had previously been registered as electors, what happens? Does this mean that the name of an elector which is already on the list is then simply blotted out?

* The Representation of the People Act came into force in 1958, much earlier than the National Identity Act, which came into operation in 1985, and which requires Mauritian citizen having attained the age of 18 to apply for the Mauritius National ID Card within a grace period of six months. In 2019, the Electoral Commission should have had access to the Mauritius National ID Card’s database to countercheck and correct any discrepancy in its Electors’ List allowing for reasons of deaths, emigration, etc. That should be possible, isn’t it?

Many things are possible, it only requires the will to get things properly implemented. The Electoral Commission and the Electoral Commissioner should formulate proposals that are commensurate with modern-day technology. Remember how they were quick to introduce the controversial computer rooms in the 2019 elections. Both the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Commissioner should be constantly on the alert and come up with new ideas to reinforce the democratic process.

* Checking if one is indeed registered to vote at the next elections should be a rather straightforward matter. Is that indeed the case as things stand today?

It should be, but it does not appear to be so. What happened during the 2019 elections is an eye-opener: numerous people who genuinely believed they were on the electoral list were sent back from the voting centres because their names did not appear on the electors’ list. What this amounts to is that they were effectively forfeited the right to vote due to the bureaucratic failings of the Electoral Commission.

Should we therefore expect people to leave their place of work or residence and go check with the Electoral Commission until the eve of elections to ensure that their names remain on the electors’ list? What if their names are not there despite the fact that they had voted in previous elections? Will the Electoral Commission come forward with remedial measures in such cases to ensure that these people may exercise their right to vote?

* There have indeed been reports about so many people having learnt to their dismay on election day in 2019 that their names did not appear on the list of registered voters. According to Leader of Opposition Xavier Duval, 6800 qualified voters registered their protests for that reason. How could that be possible when so many of these same people had been able to cast their votes in previous elections?

The answer is simple. Something is terribly rotten in the State of Denmark. The custodians of the electors’ lists have been incapable to provide us with clear rational answers. Were the names omitted deliberately to favour one particular party/alliance? We do not know. Were the names omitted through an administrative error? We do not know. Until we get straightforward answers from the custodians of the lists, the suspicion of impropriety will persist.

* Xavier Duval referred to figures available in ‘Statistics Mauritius & Electoral Commission’s Office, which indicate that 45,412 qualified voters were left out from the 2019 elections, as against 9900 in the 2014 elections. That makes around 4.6% from the total number of citizens, potentially voters, having attained the age of 18. That’s pretty serious… since a shift of only 5% in the electoral voting pattern — with or without the Bangladeshis’ votes — might have changed the electoral outcome. Shouldn’t that have called for an investigation into that huge discrepancy?

Right from day one there has been a call for a thorough investigation. What has been the result? Nothing has happened. The fact that nothing has happened may mean a lot of things…

* In fact, in November 2019, 838 foreign nationals residing in Mauritius – 523 Indians, 68 South Africans, 36 Pakistanis, 67 Britons and 45 Bangladeshis – registered in our electoral lists might have cast their votes in the then general elections, and possibly helped produce an electoral outcome that would not affect them directly. Is that acceptable?

The outcome did not depend only on the foreigners’ votes. But it is a shameful aberration to allow foreigners many of whom do not know anything about the stakes involved to vote in our elections. Maybe in 1968 when this clause was inserted in the Constitution it was felt at that time that it would be a good thing to involve Commonwealth citizens in our electoral process. But this has been perverted by money politics to which many foreigners succumb. It is high time to scarp that blot from our Constitution.

* Allegations have recently been made about the use of Social Media Analytics Cloud (SMAC) software by the Electoral Commission (EC) for the 2019 elections that would allow for the profiling of electors. This has been denied by the Electoral Commissioner, but this has been followed up by Xavier Duval who referred to the State Informatics Ltd’s communique, as published on its website, indicating its successful completion of the EC’s project “to upgrade its software application using the latest technology that can support SMAC”. Is that perfectly in order in light of the Representation of the People Act 1958?

Computers were introduced at the last elections without any legal text that provided for them at an election. But the Supreme Court found this normal in two cases. The Electoral Commissioner stated that he introduced computers as an administrative measure.

It would appear that the Electoral Commission has become a law unto itself, such that it feels authorized to implement any administrative decisions for the purposes of elections and registration of voters.

If there is nothing mysterious or untoward about the use of the Social Media Analytics Cloud (SMAC) software by the Electoral Commission for the 2019 elections, why should the Electoral Commissioner deny it in the teeth of information emanating from State Informatics Ltd’s communique, as published on its website?

* In 2018, a popular social networking site came under heavy fire from US regulators after it was found that a third-party vendor had collected data of users illegally and which was then used to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections. How do you react to that?

It is difficult to have complete control over social media. People will misuse it for political or financial gains. So, what do we do about it? Political parties the world over will make use of social media to spread all kinds of rumours about their opponents. We have had this in Mauritius. It remains to be seen if governments in democratic countries will do something about it. Here computers were used in the 2019 elections but the Electoral Commission asserted that were not used for the counting the votes. Why were they there then?


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 27 May 2022

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