It took the intervention of the Government to put the procurement of BVR and EVID machines back on track, but by then the damage had been done. For a start, the equipment arrived too late to allow IEBC time to study the technology before deploying it. IEBC’s slow and late purchasing of the equipment, lack of adequate time for testing or training their staff left critics convinced that “the system was always intended to fail”.
When the registration exercise began in December 2012, some of the biometric kits failed to recognise thumbs, which by extension forced ID card numbers to be keyed in manually into the system. During voting day, many polling stations in Kenya and generally in Africa are located in schools that do not have power.
The problem was that when the batteries used to power laptops loaded with the electronic poll book — that allows voters to place their finger and be recognised on the voters roll book – expired, many of them could not be recharged with power sockets. What was needed, IEBC found out painfully, was solar-charged equipment.
The drama surrounding electronic transmission was almost comical. It turned out that many of the returning officers forgot their pass codes needed to access the system. And in cases of those who were able to gain access, they were simply unable to transmit their figures for unexplained reasons.
Even worse, the main election server crashed, totally overwhelmed by the data it was processing.
Ironically, IEBC did not have a back-up plan in the event the server crashed. It seemed that IEBC had not been taking notes when they flew to Ghana to observe their techno-driven election preparations that had gone through huge technological challenges.
Election technology comes with a stunning price tag requiring the participation of donor support for many countries in Africa to afford it. The figures of costs tabulated so far are shocking in relation to the amount spent and the number of voters. The cost to voter ratio can sometimes leave critics scratching their heads.
In DRC, the elections cost was a staggering $360 million with 31 million registered voters, with $58 million of that money spent on biometrics. Ghana, the country with 14 million voters spent $124 million with $76 million spent on BVR. In Kenya’s case, the elections cost $293 million (Sh25 billion) against 14 million voters, with donors putting in $100 million (Sh8.7 billion).
In more established global democracies, elections can cost on average of $1 to $3 per voter. In Kenya, where six ballots were staged on the same day, the process cost over $20 per voter. Sadly, Kenyan taxpayers aided by western donors are still paying dearly for a system that failed, even though the Supreme Court upheld the results and donors gave the elections a clean bill despite technological challenges.
Looking ahead, IEBC wants to be prepared to conduct the next general election without technological hitches. And they have turned to a commissioner known to put out fires. Thomas Letangule chaired the dispute resolution tribunal after the chaotic party primaries in early 2013. Now he has been tasked with revamping the technology aspect of the election body and help resolve the issues as chairman of the ICT panel of IEBC.
For a start, Letangule says they want to have a technological system in place early that can be tested and proven. And they have spent the last few months doing what he calls “post-election interrogation.”
He says: “We are interrogating ourselves, why did this happen? Because we want to have a roadmap ahead. We are auditing our systems...we are examining why ICT failed and what mechanism we need to put in place going forward.”