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Adopt vote tabulators to stem conflict

Thursday September 7 2017

Independent Election and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Official arrange ballot boxes brought by Election Clerks after the close of polling stations. Adopting vote tabulators will greatly reduce the human footprint in the electoral process. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Independent Election and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Official arrange ballot boxes brought by Election Clerks after the close of polling stations. Adopting vote tabulators will greatly reduce the human footprint in the electoral process. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By AMIN MWIDAU

The validation of Kenya’s 2017 General Election outcome by the international community notwithstanding, local ethnic and political polarisation—and now, the Supreme Court decision to nullify the presidential poll—have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the entire electoral process.

With Nasa’s petition victory, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is cast in doubt, political tension persists and ethnic hatred and stereotypes reinforced.

IEBC did a commendable job in preparing and delivering the election in spite the human challenges that were identified in the petition. But there is still room for improvement to potentially eliminate doubt on the electoral process.

At the human level, no country can attain 100 per cent full-proof election unless the electoral process is managed by angels.

IMPROVING SYSTEM

But if I may use the words of my teacher, “there is more integrity in a system than the players in the system”. An improvement to the system that delivers the election is better than changing the players at every disputed contest.

Nasa should, therefore, not dwell on the removal of IEBC commissioners or secretariat officers but instead work at improving the process to ensure transparent, free and fair elections in future.

But electoral change will depend on the commitment and resolve of IEBC and the goodwill of political players, led by Parliament.

The corrupt environment of our society does not stop at IEBC’s doorstep and there is no guarantee that officers will not be compromised by political interests.

HUMAN FOOTPRINT

However, the impact of any party can be lessened by reducing the human footprint in the electoral process.

Our electoral system combines manual and electronic systems. Voters are electronically registered and identified at the ballot box while voting and counting of the ballots are manual. The results are then transmitted electronically with a paper trail for authentication at the national tallying centre.

The one opportunity where tinkering with the election can occur—either inadvertently or by design—without immediate discovery is the manual counting and tallying of votes.

Preventing fraud at this stage requires a reduction of the human footprint, achievable through vote tabulators.

VOTE TABULATOR

Vote counting technology has the capacity to reduce the number of polling personnel, cut the time taken to determine the voting outcome and eliminate inefficiency and opportunity for fraud in the election.

More importantly, the physical ballot will still provide an audit trail should a dispute arise.

A novel feature of the vote tabulator is its ability to tally cast ballots and save the results in a data card throughout the course of voting.

This in addition to immediate generation of a results tape and transmission of results at the close of polls.

All without human input.

Form 34A

If adopted in the Kenyan electoral process, it would eliminate the need for Forms 34A, 34B, and 34C.

In their place, the result tape will be populated with the candidates’ tally from every polling station.

At the end of the day, agents will sign the results tape to ensure no new one is fraudulently generated with a different number.

Similarly, transmission of results is electronic.

The trigger for transmission is the manual close of polling once the last person has cast their vote and the ballot inserted into the tabulator.

COST

The main challenge in adopting vote tabulators in elections is the cost.

Kenya would require at least 26,000 tabulators for its 19 million voters.

Establishing the proper infrastructure and preventative maintenance before every election is also critical in ensuring there are no hitches on Election Day.

But then, in light of the high cost of repeat elections due to administrative errors by polling staff, it makes sense to invest in a robust electronic system.

That will eradicate the weaknesses of the existing system and prevent electoral disputes and conflicts from undermining the country’s blossoming democracy.

With its landmark verdict, the Supreme Court has gone where no other judicial jurisdiction has in adjudicating electoral acrimony.

Kenya can avoid the current situation by entrenching a credible electoral process by adopting vote tabulators. 

 Mr Mwidau is a public administration, policy and governance professional with extensive experience in voting technology and election management. [email protected]