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Debate on manual back-up system in polls is nonsensical

By The Standard | Published Sat, January 7th 2017 at 00:00, Updated January 6th 2017 at 17:02 GMT +3

Imagine for a moment that it is 9.30am, Tuesday the August 8, 2017. Raila Odinga, a Presidential candidate turns up to cast his ballot at Olympic Primary School. Imagine that after extensive protests by CORD, the President did not sign the amended Elections Law.

Consequently, a person can only be allowed to vote if their biometrics are recognised by the Electronic Voter Identification Device (EVID), thus eliminating the risk of “dead voters.” The election officials are however jittery because they are aware that in a number of situations, fortunately not too many, the identification devices have been known to refuse to recognise the biometrics of a legitimate voter.

Back to Raila who has now presented his fingerprints for verification. The machine, unaware of the person who stands before it, reports that his fingerprints are not identified. The polling clerks are now sweating. The entire country is fixated on TV screens where commentators are giving a blow by blow account of the proceedings. The process is tried again. The device once again rejects Raila’s thumbprint.

Now I want you to recall what happened in 2007 when Raila’s name took some time to be traced in the voters roll and the media erroneously reported that his name was missing. The tension was so high that it took the Electoral Commission of Kenya Chairman Samuel Kivuitu, to personally visit Kibera to calm the crowds. Unfortunately this time, there is nothing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) or its Chair can do.

The electronics have spoken. Raila cannot vote. As fate would have it, the TV stations are reporting that Uhuru Kenyatta, Jubilee’s Presidential candidate successfully voted in Ichaweri Primary. The drama does not end there. Media is also reporting that there are a number of instances where voters in opposition strongholds are having similar problems. The truth is that around the country, these problems are spread out, but the Kenyan media is not known for spoiling a juicy narrative.

I can guarantee you that if the above fictional circumstances arose, we would not have an election in 2017. Which is why the current debate on back-ups is such a nonsensical one. I am still unable to understand why Jubilee leadership in the National Assembly felt it necessary to push down the proposed amendments without trying to the fullest extent possible to reach some sort of compromise on some credible back up system. I recognise that this is the season brinkmanship and it is not clear that CORD would have accepted a settlement, but why not try?

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Being the party in power, it is Jubilee’s responsibility to seek reason together with its opponents. As for CORD I have not understood why, knowing the realities that my fictional account is speaking to, did not propose a solution that would ensure a credible back up system, one that would not be compromised or would have sufficient paper trail to stop any subversion. It was only in the last minute that CORD proposed an “electronic back up” the particulars of which are unknown. How would an electronic back up work for EVID for example?

After the Senate vote, what we are now left with are the amendments passed by the National Assembly which are both politically and technically problematic. The clauses that allow an “alternative” “complimentary” system gives the IEBC too much discretion that they will be accused of abusing to prejudice whoever loses the election.

Ideally Parliament should have crafted legal provisions that would allow for back-up but include clear laid down protocols, that define exactly which aspects of the technology the back up will be addressing, to avoid abuse. You can tell it is silly season when one side pushes an illogical and reckless proposal to reject a back up and the other legislates a provision that totally negates the existing provisions on use of electronic systems. God help Kenya!