The electoral commission ignored advice from its Information and Technology director and went ahead to buy electronic voter identification kits which largely failed on the day of the March 4 General Election, whose presidential results are the subject of several court cases.
An internal memo by head of IT Dismas Ong’ondi and seen by the Nation warned of the risks posed by the kits, also referred to as e-poll books, which were to be supplied by a South African firm.
Mr Ong’ondi had warned that the kits required more time and a parallel technology for them to function optimally.
In a December 6, 2012 memo addressed to Mr Wilson Shollei, the Deputy Commission Secretary (support services) and copied to the CEO, Mr James Oswago, Mr Ong’ondi advised the election team not to award the kits tender to Face Technologies because of the risk that the equipment on offer might not work.
However, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) went ahead to award the tender against the advice of its IT chief.
On Sunday, Mr Oswago failed to answer the issues raised but IEBC chairman Issack Hassan said “a full explanation will be provided in the Supreme Court.”
Cord has filed a case challenging IEBC decision to declare Mr Uhuru Kenyatta as winner of the presidential election.
The poll books were meant to identify a voter before one could cast a ballot. They were also to verify that one was a registered voter and account for all those who voted, eliminating the risk of multiple voting, ghost voters and ballot stuffing.
On voting day, when the electronic voter identification devices failed in some polling stations, Mr Oswago had explained that the commission had used different kits in training polling clerks from the ones that were eventually used. He also said that majority of the polling clerks forgot passwords for the kits while others had difficulties decoding an in-built security chip in the gadgets. (Read: The many questions IEBC needs to clear with Kenyans over elections)
“The clerks were trained with a different machine with the knowledge that the new laptops would be similar. When it came to operating them, there was a problem,” Mr Oswago had said. “This was a result of many factors. The basic one was that most clerks could not remember the passwords assigned to the systems while others had problems with battery management.”
That was part of what Mr Ong’ondi had warned about.
He had cautioned that the device to be supplied by Face Technologies was different from the concept model and the one initially proposed.
“Considering the strict time lines, this will give the commission very limited time to carry out necessary configurations, testing and deployment to all the polling stations in the country,” he said.
The supplier had offered to deliver the kits on February 9, only three weeks to the General Election.
Another concern was that the model would come without G3 connectivity to enable it to use mobile phone networks for transmission of provisional results and periodic voting progress reports from polling stations to tallying centres.
“This means that the Commission will have to invest in a parallel technology for the results transmission,” the letter said.
If the technology had worked as expected, it would have provided a periodic update of the number of votes cast against the number of voters in the course of the day effectively ruling out chances of rigging.
Mr Ong’ondi further observed that IEBC failed to provide for regional support for the kits and instead opted to maintain a support desk in Nairobi.
“The bidder indicated that they will not be able to provide regional support for the devices to the commission, but will maintain a central support desk in Nairobi; our recent experience with the BVR kits demonstrates clear value in decentralising support to the regions, especially for such a time-critical process,” he said.
15,000 Biometric Voter Registration kits were used during the registration of the voters.
Another problem was the that supplier would not load voter registration data on the voter identification kits.
This Mr Ong’ondi said, put the commission in a fix because it was not clear “what infrastructure will be required to provide for this, and who will provide additional devices required and that there was no enough time for the commission to perform this task internally.”
He had recommended that the IEBC “considers terminating the EVID tender since no contract has been signed yet”.