Anatomy of a misinformation episode – Part 2

Photo courtesy: The Namibian / Nampa

The saga of the missing EVMs continues to taint perceptions of the machines and the upcoming elections, and the ECN is not helping.


Suspicions around the electronic voting machines (EVMs) refuse to die down and the issue has snowballed since the start of November 2019, and with an election tribunal set to decide on 25 November 2019 whether the machines will be used in the 27 November 2019 National Assembly and presidential elections.

In part 1 of this story, we explored how the missing EVMs saga first broke in the media and what transpired up to end October 2019. This part looks at what has happened since 30 October to late November 2019.


Sequence of events
30 October 2019

The Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) reported that parliamentarians in the National Assembly were divided over the use of EVMs in the upcoming elections. The opposing parliamentary sentiments were expressed in the wake of revelations of a number of EVMs having gone missing and remain unaccounted for since mid 2017, when a batch of the machines were loaned out to the ruling Swapo Party for an internal election.

1 November 2019

Contradicting an earlier ECN statement, Namibian Police inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga said that there was no police investigation into the missing EVMs. Ndeitunga was quoted by New Era saying:

“My officials informed me that they checked at the police stations if there is a registered case. I am told there is no registered case there. Nobody went there to open a case. We happen to know this case because a member of the public brought one of the EVM at the police station. On our own, we got involved to check how it happened. That is how we got into the play,” he stated.

3 November 2019

The NBC reported that Swapo Party and national president Hage Geingob said at a ruling party election campaign rally at Mariental, in the Hardap region, that the opposition was exaggerating over the reliability of the EVMs. He said that the EVMs did not belong to the ruling party, countering accusations that the machines would help the party win in the coming elections.

8 November 2019

The Namibian reported that at two separate press conferences the previous day, two political parties – the official opposition Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) and the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) – accused the ECN of bias towards the ruling party. They said the case of the missing EVMs was evidence of an irregular relationship between the ECN and the Swapo Party.

12 November 2019

The Namibian Sun posts the following on its social media pages:

On the same day, the independent presidential candidate also called on Namibians to engage in 7-day ‘No EVM Protest Marches’ across the country. That day, Itula’s lawyers also lodge a lawsuit against the ECN and other stakeholders over the use of EVMs in Namibian elections. The Electoral Tribunal would hear the case on 19 November 2019.

November 2019

While all of this was busy happening, the public debate around the reliability of the EVMs and the integrity of the ECN was raging. Various video-clips were circulating on social media and popular messaging apps about how the EVMs could be hacked, adding fuel to the fires of distrust surrounding the EVMs and the ECN. The following is one example of a video-clip that was widely shared and viewed on various social media platforms:

13 November 2019

The special election for seafarers, the military, police, correctional services officers and at foreign missions around the world is held. Later the same day results from the in-country polling stations and from around the world start pouring across social media. On the same day, the ACTION Coalition held a press conference at which, among various other election related issues, it expressed dissatisfaction with how the ECN has dealt with the issue of the missing EVMs.

14 November 2019

The ECN issued a statement in which it admits that some technical errors with the EVMs had been experienced at some polling stations in the country.

15 November 2019

The ACTION Coalition issued a statement which once again expresses concerns about how the ECN has handled the case of the missing EVMs. The statement reads:

The ECN has not handled information around the missing EVMs well and this conduct has fueled already prevalent suspicions around the integrity of the EVMs; The ACTION Coalition, against the backdrop of numerous video clips circulating on social media, that are contributing to stoking opposition to the EVMs, about the hacking of EVMs, calls on the ECN to have a public hacking session to dispel
damaging conspiracies about the hackability of the EVMs.

19 November 2019

The Electoral Tribunal hears arguments in the challenge against the use of EVMs in Namibian elections brought by independent presidential candidate Panduleni Itula. The tribunal will give its verdict on the matter on 25 November 2019.

20 November 2019

The NBC reported how the SADC election observer mission (SEOM), in a meeting with the senior command of the Namibian Police, called for the issue of the missing EVMs to be clarified and resolved, as the explanations provided to date by various authorities, including the ECN, were unsatisfactory.

What we learned:

While the ECN over recent weeks continued to fail to appropriately deal with the public relations fallout of the missing EVMs, conspiracy theories have flared and gone viral across social media and messaging apps and indications are that this has contributed to growing distrust of the voting machines and of the legitimacy of the upcoming elections. That election observers have now also sounded the alarm on the issue suggests that this could become an issue that clouds the outcomes of the 27 November 2019 elections.

NOTE: This story could still develop.