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Do we really need technology in elections

Tuesday September 10 2019

By JOHN WALUBENGO
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It was interesting to watch the primaries for nominating the ODM Kibra candidate. What stood out for me was how absolutely manual the whole process was.

Nothing fancy, compared to what we keep demanding from big brother IEBC.

ODM PRIMARIES

There was no electronic Voter ID (eVID) equipment to biometrically validate that the person voting was indeed the same one who is a registered and bona fide member of ODM.

Otherwise any non-ODM member in the name of Onyango, Wanjiku or Wafula may just show up and vote in the primaries. Or even worse, they could actually be members who fail to show up -  but someone else simply votes on their behalf.

There was no results transmission system (RTS) to ensure that tallied values captured in close to the two hundred polling stations in Kibra were electronically transmitted to a public portal as soon as the counting ended.

Otherwise you end up with the mischief of conflicting figures between what was announced at the polling station and what actually arrives and is reported at the constituency tallying centre.

Despite having none of this technical checks and balances, the Kibra ODM primaries went on successfully without the usual drama that accompanies ODM primaries in their perceived strongholds.

What is even more surprising is that the losing candidates seem to have no complaints so far and this maybe interpreted as vote of confidence in the process, however manual it was.

Which begs the question – do we really need all the expensive technology in our national general elections?

BIG ELECTION BUDGETS

Our election budgets keep growing exponentially after every five years while trust in the results declared keeps reducing, particularly for the Presidential contest.

Is our problem one of technology in election or trust in the election body? Some may say both, but I think it is none of the above.

For as long as the political elite use elections to settle on who wins them, the issue of using technology or manual systems becomes secondary.

As Kriegler’s report said, election outcomes are actually the sum total of what happens between subsequent elections and rather than what happens on that single election night.

No wonder the agitated, push and pull within the political elites for an election that is three years away. It is quite telling of our political culture that aims to use electoral processes to confirm, rather than elect various candidates to top leadership positions.

In such an environment, the political elites will give big budgets to disguise the contempt they have for implementing electoral technologies.

In as long as these technologies ‘behave’ as planned, they would be left alone. However, in the event these technologies begin to look like they may upset their predetermined outcomes, the plug is pulled off immediately.

Same approach would apply, even if we were to turn the clock back and go fully manual in our general election. The manual election would be disrupted the moment it begins to indicate some un-expected outcomes.

Anyone remembers 2007 elections or  ‘Men-in-Black’ episodes?

So yes, we do need technology in our electoral systems. But I think its is more important to have patriotic and honest political elites at the top to allow the tech or the manual systems to work.

But this then becomes the classic chicken and egg problem. How do we get the honest political elites at the top in the first place?

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.

Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu