Voter registration through biometric identification system will cost maximum GEL 102.5 million (about USD 59.6 mln) instead of about GEL 189.8 million (USD 110.4 mln) as claimed by the authorities, a group of opposition parties said on March 7.
Eight opposition parties, which last October presented a joint proposal on election system reform and agreed to speak with one voice during the talks with the authorities on election-related issues, presented their case about biometric registration and its cost before media and civil society groups on March 7.
Introduction of biometric technologies to register and also to identify voters on the election day so that to prevent any individual from multiple voting is one of the key parts of the joint proposal by the eight opposition parties, involving National Forum, Conservative Party, Republican Party, Our Georgia-Free Democrats, Georgia’s Way, New Rights, Christian-Democratic Movement (leading party in the parliamentary minority) and Party of People.
Discussions currently focus on drawing up voter list based on biometric technologies to eradicate duplicate entries in the voter registry; debates currently involve cost and timeframe required for this process.
The authorities plan to launch issuing biometric IDs from June, 2011. According to the calculations, submitted by the ruling party to the election system reform working group, also involving negotiators from the opposition parties, each such ID will about GEL 35.2 (about USD 20.5) and with the current capacity of Civil Registry Agency it can issue maximum of 60,000 biometric IDs per month.
It means that providing over 3.5 million voters, which have been registered in voter list for 2010 local elections, with biometric IDs will require at least five years and at least GEL 125 million (the ruling party calculates that it will require GEL 132.1 million, which is about USD 76.8 mln on the assumption that voters’ number will be over 3.7 million, the figure disputed by the opposition).
The authorities also say that in order to speed up the process so that to provide all voters with ID cards within 14 months (starting from June, 2011 so that to complete the process before October, 2012 when the next parliamentary elections are scheduled according to the current formulation in the constitution), the Civil Registry Agency will need to increase its capacity, including through recruiting additional staff and opening more regional branches, which will require additional GEL 57.7 million (about USD 33.5 mln), thus making an overall cost of 14-month project GEL 189.8 million (about USD 110.4 mln).
But the eight opposition parties say the figure is “overinflated”. They argue that it is possible to cut down cost, including through increasing efficiency of the current capacity available for the Civil Registry Agency. Among other things, for example, the opposition argues that according to the calculations presented by ruling party, each team (consisting of two employees) can store biometric data of only two voters per day; the opposition says that it is possible to increase the figure for at least three fold, which will require recruitment of additional 100 employees, instead of 1,200 as argued by the authorities. The opposition also says that it is possible to cut down cost in other areas of the process, which will eventually lead to decrease of overall figure by at least GEL 87.8 million (about USD 51 million) making the total cost of the project GEL 102.5 million (about USD 59.6 million).
The opposition also says that the cost would be further decreased based on assumption that even the figure of 3.5 million voters is inflated and in fact 3 million biometric IDs will be required, making entire cost GEL 80 million (about USD 46.5 mln). If the procurements needed for the entire project is exempted from value added tax, it will be possible to further cut down entire cost to GEL 66 million (about USD 38.4 mln), according to the opposition.
The biometric voter registry, its cost and timeframe is expected to be discussed at the next meeting of election system reform working group, scheduled for March 9.
Irakli Alasania, the leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats party, said on March 7, that it would become clear this month whether the authorities really have a political will to improve the electoral system in the country. He also said that final agreement on overall election-related issues should be made by May.
Another issue related with biometric system is holding of election itself based on biometric identification, meaning identifying voters through biometric data on election day. It will require equipping more than 3,000 polling stations in the country with biometric devices, involving fingerprint readers, or facial and iris recognition equipment in order to identify pre-screened voters. Each polling station should also be equipped with sophisticated communication systems to secure unhindered link with central data base where all the biometric information of voters will be stored. Apart of the high cost, skeptics say it will be impossible to secure all the technical requirements the project needs by the next parliamentary elections. The ruling party lawmakers say that possible technical failures such as in communication system, especially in rural areas may impede the entire electoral process.