DR Congo: the voting machine and lessons learned

In December 2018, 22 million Congolese voters went to the polls to elect their representatives at the National and Provincial levels despite the controversy surrounding the voting machine. Two weeks before the election, the ruling party and the opposition were still unable to agree on introducing this new technology into the electoral process. Meanwhile, The Independent National Electoral Commission, CENI, continued its awareness campaign about the use of the voting machine. The facilitators of this democracy support institution and civil society associations have had frequent meetings with students, women and other young people to gain their support.

What about voting machines?

Valentin Lesfauries reveals:

“With regard to the DRC, voting machines with voice recording and counting capabilities have been purchased”, but the CENI chairman confirmed that only the ballot printing functionality would be used

“The ballot in question is indeed for paper ballots and the machine only serves the in situ printing of the voter’s choice on the ballot paper to be inserted into the ballot box. Following the same counting procedure and compilation as those that followed, in 2006 and 2011, in accordance with Congolese law.” » Corneille Naanga, President of the CENI.

Legality of the procedure for acquiring voting machines

The announced introduction of voting machines raises questions about their legality on two counts. First, the electoral law prohibits the use of electronic voting for future elections in Article 237 ter12. In addition, the purchase of this equipment is surrounded by gray areas. Which indicates a lack of knowledge of the legal framework of Congolese public procurement.

In 2014, Abbé Appollinaire Malu Malu, former president of CENI-DRC, visited Songdo in South Korea to visit the headquarters of the World Association of Election Management Bodies (A-WEB) [Boisselet 2018]13. Taking into account the fiasco of previous elections (and especially their disputes), he sees new technologies applied to elections as a means to calm the process. This is an opportunity for him to meet Ken Cho, director of Miru Systems. The former CENI chairman will also return to South Korea several times in the course of 2014.

At the end of 2015, Abbé Malu Malu died and Corneille Nangaa succeeded him at the head of the CENI. He has a new team: Norbert Basengezi, deputy of the PPRD, Joseph Kabila’s party. A few months later, his son, Marcellin Mukolo Basengezi, is appointed by Corneille Nangaa as “Advisor New Technologies” at CENI. Many suspicions weigh on his ties to Miru Systems [Muamba 2018]: The New Technologies Consultant did part of his studies in South Korea and former members of the CENI will certainly have seen him participate in Miru Systems delegations [Boisselet 2018]. But since Marcellin Mukolo Basengezi refuses to provide his curriculum vitae, the information is difficult to verify. Mr. Mukolo Basengezi will actively participate in the negotiations between CENI and Miru Systems until the end of 2017. It is an over-the-counter market, without tendering, which will be maintained.

Corneille Nangaa goes on to say: “We used a procedure that was certainly exceptional but legal and which, moreover, was ratified by the Prime Minister at the end of January 2018 and included in the measures for the application of the electoral law. The final contract has not yet been signed but there is “no turning back”, citing the need to respect the election calendar.

Voting machine: a step towards electronic voting!

Oswald Muhemeri is an election expert who attended the Election Training School in Central Africa (Kinshasa). He shares his experience with us:

“In the DRC, the electoral law provides for two types of voting: manual voting and electronic voting. It is true that during the debate over the end of Joseph Kabila’s mandate, we witnessed many contradictions about the choice to be made. At one point, CENI had mentioned the possibility of using the funds to facilitate elections given time constraints and resource constraints. The CENI felt that these kinds of votes could be used. But the legislator had expressed reservations at the time and wanted us to go back to manual voting and stop electronic voting first. The debate had evolved and at some point CENI had made proposals and that’s how we got to the voting machine option.”

Oswald defines the voting machine as the electronic ballot box. In French law, voting machine means electronic ballot box or voting computer. Oswald continues in these terms: “In the DRC, the law has not yet specified whether the use of the voting machine is electronic or not; and we think that in the next debate on the electoral law we will have to provide clarity. It is nevertheless true that CENI had used two types of votes during our vote. She used electronic tools. Thus, the reader himself was led to produce his ballot paper via the machine. This ballot paper produced served as a trail to identify the vote and the reader had to pull out their ballot themselves and deposit it in the ballot box. At this level, we can say that the CENI used two types of means: electronic means and manual means. But we think in the next debate it will be interesting for the law to specify whether the use of the voting machine is electronic or not. Overall, the voting machine saved time and resources. In that respect we had achieved the goal because we were able to organize the Presidential, National and Provincial parliamentary elections on the same day.

Ultimately, the voting machine also facilitated the counting process and the production of results. Like any novelty, the voting machine did not receive unanimous approval. Every person, whether he is an opponent of power or of civil society, is afraid of change and of novelty. The voting machine was topical, an innovation, and could only meet with resistance. But I believe that with experience, as an election observer, the voters interviewed recognized that the voting machine was a very good voting tool. For the next elections, it will be necessary to raise public awareness and encourage people to join and build confidence in the process. “Fraud is not machine related. Fraud is related to human nature,” says Oswald.

By Bernardin Sebahir