BOI: Technology: Will it deliver a credible poll on August 8?
Elections in Kenya have faced a transformative evolution in the past, with the quest of delivering credible elections that matches international standards being the highlight especially through embracing the right technology.
Untenable elections, as noted in the 2007 bungled elections in which H. E. Hon. Mwai Kibaki was announced the winner of a hotly contested presidential election by the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), has enigmatic consequences.
Some of them we could remember during that dark time when Kenya was at the precipice of collapse with massive displacement of populations, forceful evictions, rape, torture, bloodshed, loss of lives and property.
Some key recommendations of the Krieglar Commission which was an independent review committee established after the dialogue led by Hon. Koffi Anan, and of which we can today celebrate as Kenyans include but not limited to the recommendations that the right to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections be included in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of Kenya, and that voting by universal and equal suffrage and by secret ballot should be guaranteed for all without any form of discrimination and this led to the crafting of article 38 of the Constitution of Kenya with articulation of express Political Rights.
Independent Review Commission’s (IREC) recommendation on the use of the BVR that now allows voting using of ID’s, passports and Army ID’s through its integrated system, was perhaps made as a follow-up to the support that was previously given to the defunct ECK by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) since 2002 to improve its communication network and its organizational structure.
Proposals premised on the international standards for credible elections that hold that the acceptability and credibility of elections depend to a great extent on the level to which the citizens feel that the officially announced election results accurately reflect the votes cast for both candidates and political parties cannot be wished away.
Significantly, it also depends on factors such as the quality and integrity of the voter register used in the elections. However, for the elections to be considered credible and legitimate, reliable result transmission, vote counting and tallying is a critical factor often looked at by the elections’ key assessors and observers – the voters.
Systematic failure or design malfunction?
It should be remembered that despite the good intentions of introducing the BVR and Electronic Result Transmission System (RTS) in 2013, during the 4th March 2013 Elections, most polling stations were bedeviled by machine failures or malfunctioning. This made IEBC to resort to its manual analogue voter register which was mainly intended for use as a back-up.
As a result, the 2013 elections experienced its own share of electoral malpractices in various polling stations. It was also observed that most of the IEBC’s mobile phones for relaying real-time updates to the national tallying center in Nairobi failed to work most probably due to network-related problems.
We will also recall that a few hours into the tallying process, the dedicated Virtual Private Network (VPN) used to relay and display the results from the 33,000 polling stations to the National Tallying Center in Nairobi also crashed. As a result, 36 hours after the polls closed, only 42% of the votes cast had been counted.These are failures not expected to recur by all means.
While these technologies open up new windows of opportunity for enhancing credibility of elections, especially voter registration, voter register cleaning, actual voting and vote counting/tallying, they also come with critical unforeseen risks as noted and experienced in the 2013 General Elections.
This certainly keeps generating equal amount of interest and anxiety among the voters and political players across the political divide.
With only a few months to next year’s August 2017 General Elections, there is now a clear need to critically interrogate and examine Kenya’s readiness to apply ICT in its election process. Moreover, the IEBC needs examination for its professional, technical and institutional capacity and functionality to ensure that operational and technical challenges related to the use of ICT in the elections process are adequately tackled before the upcoming elections. Of high concern too is the IEBC’s level of preparedness and readiness to timely procure, pre-test and post-test the electronic kits to be used in the 2017 elections.
Whereas the Kenya Elections (amendment) Act 2016 allows IEBC to use such technology as it deems appropriate in the electoral process, the use of such technology should be adopted to the extent it aids in answering some of the compelling needs of our time and situation such as the need to eliminate double registration and the need to accurately fasten reliable transmission of results to the National Tallying Centre.
Pre and post technology testing
The successful application of electronic Results Transmission System (RTS) in the 2010 National Constitution Referendum and in the subsequent by-elections held between 2013 and 2016, the elephant in the house question remains, “why did RTS not work in the 2013 General Elections?”
What went wrong with the use of RTS in the 4th March 2013 General Elections that must be fixed before the next elections?
It has been suggested that an establishment of a multi-stakeholder support to the IEBC is very necessary. It is of utmost significance that the Government of Kenya, bi-lateral and multi-lateral donor agencies as well as other key stakeholders consider their financial, technical and professional support framework and models for IEBC.
Specific support on timely procurement of technology, staff training and capacity development on effective use and maintenance of the technology, technology pre-testing and post-testing as well as technology risks and risk mitigation measures should be considered if our electoral technology is to succeed in delivering credible election outcomes.
With regards to equipment testing preceding the elections, it is imperative that proper testing of both BVR and RTS systems be conducted. Technological, environmental/scenario and operational tests should be conducted before mass roll out of election technology.
Also, political goodwill will play a prime role for IEBC to succeed in its quest to deliver credible elections through application of advanced technology since it will influence voters’ perception too in terms of what the technology has to offer in the elections.
In addition, the process audit for technology rollout by the IEBC should be as open as it can possibly be. IEBC should engage in conducting own capacity assessment and level of preparedness to adopt BVR and RTS system in the coming election.
Process audit to exactly ascertain where IEBC is with regards to the major steps for successful implementation of electronic voting system (Voter Registration, Voters Register Cleaning, Voting, Vote Counting, Result Transmission and Tallying) is absolutely necessary.
These are some of the issues that beg for attention should Kenya anticipate a credible election in August. Kenyans should therefore engage in a very proactive, technological debate on suitable alternatives (if any) to ensure Kenya gets credible elections results on August 8. A sober attention to these technological requirements is critically necessary without further brouhaha.
The writer is a Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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