Database can be used for voters list but flaws must be tackled - experts Address order roll recommended

Stabroek News
August 1, 2000

While the 1996 Master Registration Database has been deemed suitable as a basis for the 2001 elections a number of systemic flaws were revealed in a recently concluded integrity test.

The report is the culmination of the Guyana Elections Commission Master Registration Database Integrity Test and was handed over to Commission Chairman Major General Joe Singh recently by a six-man technical team.

The report states that "Our reviews revealed some weaknesses in database structure, audit trails and security. Despite these our analysis shows that the data between the 1997 Final Voters List and the 2000 Main Registration Database remains fairly consistent. As a consequence the committee is unanimously agreed that the 2000 Main Registration Database can be used to produce a Preliminary Voters List...(it) is a valid starting point for the imminent elections process. Much work remains to be done."

The six-member team spent last month considering 11 issues put to it by the Elections Commission. Some of these such as population increases or decreases since 1992 could not be addressed because of the lack of a census. Nor could they assess swings in party support as the database does not contain information on votes cast at the last elections. Other issues included duplicate registrations and several ID cards per voter, fraudulent birth certificates, the final voters list contained persons too young to vote, dead persons or people who have migrated, that the registration process was flawed and that the final voters list was inflated. The last issue was according to the team a legal matter and outside of their jurisdiction.

The team found that there was a possibility of persons having registered twice. 2,031 names on the database had surnames, first names and dates of birth that matched. 36,920 had surnames and date of birth matches. "Some unchecked possible duplicates may exist here" the report concluded.

Four persons had appeared to register twice by reversing their first and surnames. The team recommended that these be investigated and the Commission take the appropriate action including prosecution.

The team was unable to verify reports that persons had used fraudulent birth certificates at registration and reports that the final voters list for 1997 contained underage persons were refuted: "... checks of the FVL did not reveal any underage Registrants. Therefore the Date of Birth criteria for extracting the 1997 Final Voters List were correct."

The committee noted that the "quality of the data coming from the General Registrar's Office (GRO) is such that as many as 30% of deceased notified as deceased to the Commission could not be identified by their Master Registration Card number and flagged as deceased. Therefore the database and any Provisional or Final voters list will contain dead persons. This is not a flaw in the database but in the supplied data."

Recommendations include the creation of an Address Order Voters List based on the Preliminary Voters List showing voter registration in address sequence. This would help in identifying those persons who have migrated or died. Persons should be encouraged to additionally review this list and report any irregularities during the claims and objections period. The committee recommends a thorough overhaul of the GRO/Commission process with emphasis on improving the quantity and quality of data coming from the GRO; and the formation of a standing committee to authorise any database changes.

Electronic versions of the Preliminary and Final Voter's Lists should be archived in a secure location immediately after they are issued; field tests should be scheduled periodically to spot check the accuracy of the database; the registration cards should be counted and verified against duplicate cards and compared with the database records; the Commission should review and improve the transfer of data from the GRO and its input into the Commission system and standardise the forms used by the GRO; upgrading of all computer applications and databases to Access 2000 ... at the earliest possible point; and replacement of all hardware to ensure total Year 2000 compliance.

The team notes the "critical shortage of technical human resource at the commission ..At senior management and commission level there is a lack of specialist technical understanding that has implications for the management of the computer systems in use. The team proposes a Technical Oversight Committee reporting directly to the Chairman which would bridge the gap between management and senior technical personnel." The team also recommends the outsourcing of one-off technical tasks to independent consultants. The team also discovered a lapse of security in access to the database. A thorough review is recommended.

The Audit trail which records any changes to the database should be reviewed and redesigned "to make it a useful tool for management of modifications and building confidence in the database."

The members of the Database Integrity Test Committee were Vijay Datadin, Tony Farnum, Daniel Fung, Andrew Mancey, Ronan McDermott and Mohammed Sattaur. (William Walker)

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