Technology will boost polls’ credibility

Tuesday February 2 2016

Kisumu Polytechnic students use BVR Kit for identification before picking material for vote for their student representatives during the college elections.  Technology will boost 2017 polls’ credibility. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kisumu Polytechnic students use BVR Kit for identification before picking material for vote for their student representatives during the college elections. Technology will boost 2017 polls’ credibility. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By RAPHAEL OBONYO
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The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has now set the stage for the next General Election by releasing the ambitious voter registration programme and announcing the election date.

But interestingly, debate on the role of technology in enhancing free and fair elections in 2017 has never preoccupied minds of various actors, despite the immense and vital lessons that the last election’s gadgets failure offered.

IEBC has not yet issued a clear signal of how it intends to employ technology in the elections. This is lamentable, considering the little time left —18 months — to prepare for the elections.

The Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) equipment malfunction was the most common of the challenges encountered during the 2013 elections.

Registration kit malfunction, login difficulties, screen freezes and printer breakdowns put in doubt the integrity of the announced results.

STRONGLY ANCHORED

The presidential election dispute that ended up in the Supreme Court was strongly anchored on failure of the electronic gadgets employed.

One general observation was that the country implemented the new technology hastily and did not have a reliable back up plan. The IEBC has not yet told us whether the technology employed is still relevant and to what extent it will be used in 2017.

The magnitude of the technology needed to conduct a complex election in Kenya, as we learnt in 2013, is supposed to be put in place long before election date to allow test runs and create some back up on how failure of the technology could be countered with other systems such as manual equipment.

Kenya will hold its sixth General Election in 2017 since introduction of multi-party politics. Having held consistent periodic elections, the question now turns on credibility.

Save for the election that ousted Moi from power in 2002, all the other presidential election results have been disputed.

The coming election is expected to be highly contested, and with the events of the 2008 electoral violence fresh in our minds, IEBC must seriously focus on what measures it wants to put in place to ensure the election is not disputed.

EMPLOY TECHNOLOGY

As rightly captured in a recent report: New Constitution, Same Old Challenges by the Society for International Development, for elections to be credible, the process has to be certain, and the outcome uncertain until the last vote is counted.

BVR, if well implemented, can help to produce a legitimate and verifiable register of voters. In Africa, where elections are highly contested, many countries are increasingly embracing BVR as a complementary tool for compiling the register of voters.

IEBC, because of the unreliable nature of technology as it learnt in the last election, must procure and test the equipment way before the elections, if it hopes to employ the technology. 

Despite the social and technical difficulties that arise from adoption of the new technology, many agree that the new registration system can help make elections transparent.

Countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Zambia, Togo, Uganda and Ghana have already adopted the fingerprint scanning technology to help prevent electoral fraud.

With a target to register eight million more voters in the next two months, preparations should be more robust, and the IEBC must improve its game.

As long as there are violations of electoral processes and voting machines like BVR are not working properly, voters cannot be expected to trust that the outcome will be accurate.

Most importantly, the electoral agency should realise that the proper use of electronic systems for voter listing, voting and tallying of votes is essential to increase trust and voter participation.

Mr Obonyo is the Africa Representative to the World Bank’s Global Coordination Board of Youth Network.

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