Get all parties' nod before amending electoral law

A past joint parliament session, Nairobi [David Njaaga, Standard]

The Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 has been introduced in the National Assembly. Among other things, the Bill seeks to revert to the manual system of transmitting election results last used in 2007. It also seeks to empower election officials to conduct manual identification of voters in a bid to address the vexing issue of ‘dead’ voters casting votes.

In 2013, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission used the electronic transmission system that had been touted as the best in reducing time taken to announce final results and its ability to reduce cases of fraud arising from possible manipulation of the actual results.

However, the system malfunctioned and occasioned a delay in announcing the final results. That delay gave rise to all manner of speculation, including the claim that the system had been hacked.

In the end, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) used the manual system that entails returning officers travelling back to Nairobi with all relevant noted documents for physical verification.

The veracity of the electronic transmission again came under question during the 2017 General Election. The opposition, then under the National Super Alliance banner, disputed the election and filed a petition that ended in the nullification of the presidential results. Attempts, and indeed a High Court directive to IEBC to open the election servers for scrutiny did not bear fruit.

IEBC’s reluctance to open the servers raised questions about the infallibility of electronic transmission, which is not to say the manual system doesn’t have its own downsides. In 2007, for instance, the inordinate delay in announcing the results cast the country into chaos that claimed 1300 lives.

Both systems, therefore, have their low and high points but could be made to work for us if the gaps are sealed. In deliberating on the elections bill 2022, caution is advised. Every electoral cycle in Kenya comes with violence, mistrust and disunity as a result of contested elections. Now that we are headed for the August elections, care should be taken to ensure there is no reason anyone, or any party, will contest the results.

It would be injudicious for the movers of the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 to bulldoze it through Parliament for no other reason other than just because they have the numbers in Parliament.

It is incumbent that change in the manner in which the election will be conducted, including the election results transmission, be agreed upon by all stakeholders, including political parties and IEBC that will bear the burden of any disputed results.

Changes to the electoral law, especially coming close to the election date, are likely to be treated with suspicion by a section of politicians and even the public.

We must avoid anything that could cause suspicion or lead to endless litigation with the end result being driving a wedge between Kenyans. It is important that we have a consensus on this matter.