Forget my fingerprint!

July 22, 2004

Based on some e-mails I have received, some people do not understand what the role of the fingerprint machines will be in the upcoming referendum, so they donít quite understand what the fuss is all about when some people object to their use in the upcoming vote.

Contrary to what many people may believe, these machines will not be used to compare their fingerprint with that registered in the national identification system; such a database simply does not exist in digital form. What the machines are intended for, is simply to obtain the fingerprint from the voter and compare it to that of every single person that has voted before him or her that day. Thus, using this truly brute force method, the CNE is assured that the person voting has not voted before and there will be no use of national ID cards that are stolen; correspond to dead people or non-voters.


The biggest problem with the fingerprint system is that they are notorious for their problems in obtaining the data, depending on age, weight and type of skin. Some systems have taken a while to work properly and are usually tested for months before their implementation. In contrast, the system to be used in Venezuela was purchased less than a month ago and there will be little time or opportunity to test it.


During last weekendís trial of the voting machines, some polling booths also had the fingerprint systems. While the results obtained with the voting machines (see story below) were quiet satisfactory, the same could not be said of the fingerprint system. The voting machines worked quiet well, the average for the trial was 34 seconds per voter and 0.6% of the machines failed, but they failed when the power was purposely shut off to see if they would act properly when power was restored and they came back on. This seems quiet adequate, even if they were not tested under conditions of high demand like there will be on August 15th.


The same could not be said of the fingerprint machines. The average time per voter in those centers was over 4 minutes! (4 minutes and 20 seconds to be exact!). This is simply unacceptable and would imply that on the day of the elections, if such a bottleneck existed, it would be impossible for all Venezuelans that plan to participate to cast their vote. Moreover, it is unclear if the system will slow down if it has to compare the fingerprint of the voter to a few million voters that preceded him or her during the day. 


The use of the fingerprint machines will thus create a possible bottleneck that would certainly create havoc on August 15th. if not properly tested before. The voter would register first, then it will have to go to the fingerprint machine, but would not be able to proceed until the system has compared the fingerrint to those that came before. Only after the computers have done this, will the voter be given the green light to proceed to the voting machine, which has proven to be quite effective and efficient in my personal opinion. Thus, the objection being raised about their use, which I certainly share. In fact, unless the CNE organizes another test, with fairly intensive use of the fingerprint machines, I think they should just forget about it and wait until the next election to use them as they were meant to be used: As a ratification of the identity of the person voting, not as brute force technique to prevent people from voting more than once.

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