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Yes it’s an Acronym.
No it does not stand for Beyond Visual Range.

BVR or Biometric Voters Registration is a newfangled system of registration that the Electoral Commission of Ghana has undertaken for the 2012 Elections. Basically, the old voter’s register is being tossed out and a new one taking its place.  The cool thing about this new register is that it won’t just have your demographic data and a simple photo like the old one.  Oh no,  This register is bigger and better than that! It’s going to have your biometric information.

What’s biometric, you ask?  Such a big word for a simple thing, really.  Biometric information is simply your physiological information.  In this case, the EC is taking fingerprints and high resolution photographs of voters for storage in a giant database.

Perhaps I watered it down a bit too much. What the EC is really doing is scanning your fingerprints on a sensor (it’s not placing your fingers in ink and pressing them on paper for some archaic forensic expert to go inspect with a magnifying glass) and storing the resulting computer image for later matching. Even better is the facial recognition aspect of the registration process.  Yes, those high res images of you are not for nothing.  They’re so that a computer programme will be able to match your facial features to that of the image.  Pretty cool, huh?

One thing that has to be made clear right off the bat is that there isn’t going to be biometric voting this year.  There isn’t any such thing.  Rather, what we’re going to have is a biometric registration (collection of your usual biodata and fingerprints plus facial image) and on the day of voting, biometric verification.  That means, that on the d-day, the EC is going to check to make sure that the holder of the card is truly who they say they are.  Your fingerprints won’t disappear (unless you end up losing your fingers in some freak accident or go to war with some local gangs) and unless you’re tossing acid in your own face or planning some major reconstructive surgery, your face won’t either.  So, instead of having someone look at your card and say you’ve gained too much weight so it can’t be you in a photo or that your id card has faded so they can’t be sure that it’s you, the EC is going to let the computer do the talking. And the resulting ID Card?  Why, surely it’s going to have a microchip that will contain all your information, just like a biometric passport. 

*cough cough* That’s what you would get if we lived in a CSI world. It’s all one big misconception! I was really excited when I heard about the BVR and being somewhat of a forensics fan, I ran through several possible scenarios involving computer algorithms and highly trained agents.  That, my friends, is not the case in this BVR.

See, I have various issues with the ongoing BVR.  Eight hours in a queue (and only because I was ushered into the express lane on account of I had been there the previous day)…..hours in the baking sun; tired and hungry and afeared for my safety on account of the arguing and browbeating that is oft to occur in heavily populated areas like mine,  and what I experienced when I finally had my turn was a smudged substandard fingerprint scanner which I had to insist on cleaning myself. I figured it was very clear.  Just as you can’t see out of your spectacles with streaks of oily prints on your lens, the scanner will be hard pressed to capture a lone print with several overlaying it. Perhaps I should mention that the scanner being used is an optical one. It behaves as a camera (and therefore an eye) should.

Even after wiping down the scanner, it couldn’t pick up the prints on my last two fingers.  Mind you, I’m not a wrinkly old woman.  I have not lost any fingers.  It took someone else holding my fingers down for them to finally get all my fingers scanned. And the photograph? Eugh they shouldn’t have bothered.  My last one (a black and white photo) of me unwashed and sleepy cuz I’d been dragged out of bed at 4am was much clearer than the image these search and peck typing Agents captured.  There is no way in high heaven that the image they captured can be used to identify me later on. 

And then we can talk of my new card.  My word for it is not recognised by the oxford learners’ dictionary.  SHOCKPRISED!!! That’s a mixture of shock and surprise. In this case, I was also extremely disappointed.  In the first place, It was a flimsy sheet of paper produced by a simple HP OfficeJet printer. A lady waaaay at the back cut it out (crookedly) for me with a pair of scissors and laminated it.  I have shaky hands.  I have never been trusted with a pair of scissors (least not more than once) and I can assure you that I would have done a better job than she did but I digress.

This ID card is the flimsiest I have ever had.  My university of Ghana ID was way better. The same can be said for what the National Service secretariat gave me. Even the previous ID card was more sturdy than what they gave me.  There is no magnetic strip and after speaking with someone, I discovered that the cameras being used for the facial images and supposedly to permit facial recognition are simple 2 megapixel cameras.

Really? 2MP cameras? My 10MP camera would not allow for 50% accuracy.  What on earth makes them think that a 2MP will do the job? There is a Barcode, however.  Perhaps that will be used? I shudder to think what would happen, if they attempted to use these dodgy gadgets to identify people before letting them go join the queue to the ballots boxes, come election day but that will be discussed in another post. The idea of a scan-able card sits better with me than the idea of them trying to match the data they collected, seeing as how dodgy the equipment has turned out so far. When the EC Chairman spoke about the exercise back in February, he was not really clear about how they would verify voters.  I quite got the impression we were on the same page.  Ah well…We’ll just wait and see what happens.

Dr Kwadwo Afari Gyan, the current EC Chairman stated last year, that we were not ready for BVR.  The politicians called him a fool.  They insulted him left and right on every platform they could get a hold of and so here we are, a nation undergoing an exercise which in my humble opinion, we are not ready for.

None-the-less, it is an exercise being undertaken nationally and without participating, one would not be allowed to vote, come December 7, 2012. 

As discouraging as the registration process has been so far, Ghanaians have impressed with their turnout. The EC claims that about 6.5 million out of the expected 12million Ghanaians have registered so far, and that was after 16 days into the exercise.

Hopefully the rest of the eligible population will also come out to register. Yes, the queues are long and the sun blazing.  Yes, it’s going to feel like a waste of time but one thing should get people out to register.  It’s the same thing that had me stick in the queue, and that’s the fact that no responsible and eligible Ghanaian should abstain from the exercise, no matter how tedious it is. It is up to US to choose our future leaders. Sitting on our thumbs and letting others choose for us, then complaining when they install someone incapable is unacceptable behaviour. 

We live in a democratic society. We have been given the right to choose our leaders.  It is our responsibility to exercise that right and no amount of frustrations should stop us from doing just that!

I’m still excited about the idea of biometric registration. I can’t wait for a time when we will be able to vote by simply scanning our eyes and swiping a single finger to get access to a polling booth. Perhaps that’s more Star Trek than CSI but hey, a girl can have high hopes for the country she loves. 2020 elections perhaps?





  1. I have a simple theory:
    Whoever it is that is responsible for lobbying for this so-called biometric voter register was and still is in it for just how much money he/she/they can gouge the unsuspecting/uncaring/oblivious Ghanaian with the connivance of various government and public officials in charge of oversight of such things. The strategy is to talk up a storm about just how secure(wink wink) the new process will be, how easy it would be to implement etc etc. The clueless and shamelessly ignorant leaders pretend to know what the hell is being spoken about it, get promised a cut and rubberstamp the whole shebang.
    The guys implementing get the cheapest, crappiest equipment they can get, pay people peanuts to set up an archaic, easily hackable and crashable database and basically set up this farce we call the Biometric Voter Register.
    Guess who walks away with a few million $$ and who is left holding a really smelly bag of monkey poo known as the BVR.
    I love Ghana

    April 12, 2012
  2. It’s frustrating and disappointing. BVR indeed! I’d share my experience soon. I wonder why we plunge headlong into something as huge as this with little preparation.

    April 12, 2012
  3. @ G.E.A.R., are you speaking from experience, or is this just speculation? I understand that Dr. Afari Gyan called for experts to assist the EC but no one showed up. However upon getting this set up, all of a sudden over a dozen biometric experts popped up in this country.

    I think we brought this up on ourselves. Politicians made so much noise for it and we as citizens did not lend the EC our support. We allowed them to be backed into a corner and then failed to even assist them set up a proper system. We really have no one else to blame but our lazy selves. Oh and let’s not forget the people who pass envelopes beneath tables.

    April 13, 2012
  4. @ Kafui, Please do share your experience. I think it’s sad that this exercise is so troublesome to most people. As Ghanaians willing to exercise our civic rights, we should have a proper working system. I wonder how many were discouraged and have decided to forgo it 🙁

    April 13, 2012

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