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Election tech under spotlight in Kenya

A policeman guards boxes of electoral ballot papers inside a storage warehouse run bz the IEBC in Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 3, 2022.

After the 2013 and 2017 elections which saw results transmitted electronically and biometrics used to register voters and identify them, 22.1 million Kenyans are expected to vote on August 9.

The use of technology remains a source of worry for some poll watchdog.

“The only major positive aspect of the technology which has come to Kenya, as I said, was voter registration, I think that has worked very well”, Mulle Musau, a National Coordinator Elections Observation Group (ELOG) judges. “However, there have been more problems in my view than there have been the benefits. That’s just one aspect of it. The major problems that we have been having with technology is the fact that it has made our elections much more complex.”

Technology comes into play 2 times on election day, first voters provide their fingerprints for identification against a digital database then when polling stations close and votes are counted, the official form displaying the outcome from each polling station is photographed and transmitted digitally. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission assured precautions are in place to avoid any failure. For example, more than 55,000 electronic machines used for identifying voters and sending results have been deployed across the country, and each is powered by two stand-alone batteries. Election officials also say back-up kits have been provided, and polling officers can fall back on manual methods as a last resort.

But there is no such thing as zero risk. “We don’t know with certainty that the system of transmission will work 100%, that’s where the problem is. The second part of the technology problem lies with the identification process, and this is much more of a political problem than a technical problem (referring to parties disagreeing on whether to use manual registers if the digital identification kits fail, ed)”, Musau says.

Distrust in electronic ballot counting and violent post-electoral memories remain vivid in Kenya.

British firm Smartmatic, which is the software provider for this election, has denied criticism that its technology — used in polls from Uganda to Venezuela and the Philippines — has flaws.

The Kenyan cabinet Secretary for Interior declared Thursday that August 9- election day- would be a public holiday.

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