MAKERERE – During the recent elections for leaders of halls of residence, Makerere University introduced on-line voting.Ms Winifred Buga, the Deputy Dean says that on-line voting was introduced because; “It is a less tedious process. You do not have to count the votes manually through the night when e-voting is used.”
The warden of Mary Stuart Hall, Ms Grace Kabuye echoes her sentiments and says that besides the process being less tiring, it is cheaper as there is no need to print ballot papers that cost about Shs 300,000.
The Rockefeller Foundation, through the Faculty of Computing and Information Technology funded this project. Students that were trained under the incubation centre programme came up with the software that enabled the on-line voting.
However, much as this technology is cheaper and more convenient, some students refused to adopt it on grounds that change cannot be rushed – it should be gradual. At least that is the excuse Lumumba and Mitchell residents gave for refusing to vote on-line.
But even when Lumumba residents were coerced into voting on-line; come D-Day, Makerere experienced load-shedding and the generator that was availed could not power even two computers. Ms Buga says that it lacked fuel and places the blame on the hall administration.
At Mary Stuart, it was a more complex story: the hall doesn’t even own a generator. When one was finally brought, the computer system kept collapsing, delaying the voting process.
One Brian Kitaka, who was in charge of the e-voting, blamed the students who kept knocking against the network cable which in turn destabilised the server. He says that later on, they plan to install these cables in places where students cannot kick them.
Some students could not operate computers and Kitaka says that in his estimation, in all female halls of residence, only 15% voters could use computers without help. “The boys were not as bad,” he said.
Students also have other reservations: Annette Naisaza, a resident of Mary Stuart said that computers made “students nervous and they ticked people they did not want to yet they did not know how to undo this.”
Zulfah Atuhairwe said computers wasted time. And some completely failed to use the computers. At Mary Stuart, the nominal roll showed that 616 students voted but the computer tallied them at 579 implying that 37 students failed to use the computers to vote.
And who can blame them seeing what happened when it came to announcing results at Mary Stuart Hall. Results had to be cancelled because some candidates were getting more votes than the number of people who had voted. Candidates had similar codes and this resulted in some candidates getting cumulative votes. These ended up getting about 4,000 votes yet only 579 people had voted!
University Hall, Livingstone, Nsibirwa, Africa, Nkrumah and Complex Hall (CCE) residents however voted successfully.
Makerere is evidently trying to move forward as there are plans to use e-voting at the next Guild elections. But this movement is encumbered by poor administration at hall level. How can you organize electronic voting when not all halls own generators and can afford fuel?