East Africa

Kenya elections: The technology headache

By ONYANGO K’ONYANGO


As Kenya heads into crucial General Elections next week, the headache for the electoral commission (IEBC) is how well to deploy technology for voters.

It will be a test for the day, but also a legal requirement since the Supreme Court nullified the 2017 presidential election after it found the Commission did not follow proper procedure in tallying votes and transmitting the results.

Read: Kenya police, IEBC in truce as polls integrity concerns linger

In a petition filed by the then opposition coalition National Super Alliance (Nasa) presidential candidate Raila Odinga, the court heard that the declared winner Uhuru Kenyatta had profited from failures in the transmission of results. The Supreme Court, Kenya’s highest appellate body, said IEBC fell short of requirements stipulated by the Constitution.

The judges agreed with Mr Odinga, now making his fifth stab at the country’s top seat on the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya coalition, that either IEBC’s IT system was infiltrated and compromised and the data therein interfered with, or IEBC’s officials interfered with the data. He argued that either these had happened or they refused to accept that the Commission had bungled the whole transmission system.

“The simultaneous electronic transmission of results from the polling station to the Constituency and National Tallying Centre, is not only intended to facilitate this verification process but also acts as insurance against potential electoral fraud by eliminating human intervention/intermeddling in the results tallying chain. This, the system does, by ensuring that there is no variance between the declared results and the transmitted ones,” the judges ruled in a 4-2 decision.

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It was the first time someone petitioned the courts based on the transmission of results rather than the count of the vote itself.

The Supreme Court did not find any evidence of misconduct by the candidates but instead saw a systemic institutional problem in evidence, making it difficult to verify the results.

Ahead of the polls, IEBC CEO Marjan Hussein told stakeholders the commission would only be transmitting the form 34A’s from polling stations to the national tallying centre.

Read: What are Forms 34A and 34B?

“When you talk about results transmission, the Supreme Court actually asserted itself as far as what are the results and what should be transmitted. It is very clear that what is to be transmitted actually is the form and not the text. That is form 34A for the purpose of the presidential election from polling station to the constituency tallying centre to the national tallying centre,” said Mr Hussein in June 2022.

Two frontrunners in the presidential race have also taken up technology ostensibly to protect their votes.

Mr Davies Chirchir, former ruling party Jubilee Party chief agent in the 2017 election, is leading the Deputy President’s wing, while team Azimio’s ICT chief is Mr George Njoroge, the East African Data Handlers Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director.

At the same time, political players have raised concerns about why IEBC decided to contract Smartmatic International BV to provide voter identification equipment and software without doing background checks on its past dealings.

Last week, three Venezuelans- Joel Gustavo Rodriguez, Jose Gregorio Carmago and Salvador Javier Suarez were detained at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) for carrying electoral material in their luggage. The matter has since been smoothened, but it is unclear what their rule will be. Mr Odinga has since put the agency to the task to explain what they were doing in the country with election stickers.

Also read: IEBC begins to feel pressure from aspirants

The Smartmatic International BV through its Integrated Communications Director Ms Samira Saba said the three were full-time employees of the company having handled elections in other countries like- the United States, Belgium, the UK, Bulgaria, Albania, the Philippines among others.

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