Polling officials were forced to resort to manual identity checks after the internet went out during Uganda’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The country had originally planned to rely on biometric voter identification, but was forced to abandon the plan once network failure limited their utility.

Biometric Voter Machines Fail After Ugandan President Shuts Down Internet During Election

“At first the machine was slow but later it failed totally. So we have stopped using it,” said Medard Opita, the presiding officer at Jjuuko Kikko Ground in Kibuye 1 Parish, Makindye Division in Kampala City.

According to reports from Uganda, the network problems can be attributed to President Yoweri Museveni, who imposed an internet blackout that cut off access to news, social media, and messaging services ahead of the election. Museveni has been in power since 1986, and has repeatedly used his security forces to target and harass both his opponent and his opponent’s supporters throughout the election cycle. 

The internet disruption created delays at polling stations and made voting much more of a hassle for Ugandan citizens, since biometric voter verification would have taken much less time than the manual alternative. Eighteen million Ugandan citizens are expected to cast ballots in the election, of whom 40.8 percent are below the age of 30.

Uganda’s Electoral Commission first implemented biometric polling for national elections in early 2016, after ordering 30,000 fingerprint scanners from Smartmatic. The country has also used biometric technology to track HIV and AIDS patients.