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Parallel vote tabulation best way to effective polls monitoring in Africa

COMMENTARY
By | August 22nd 2010

By Mercy Njoroge

Safeguarding the integrity of election results has emerged as a critical element in the conduct of elections in Africa. As opposed to the voting and counting, a number of elections in Africa were contested not on the basis of fraud during these two processes, but rather at the level of tallying and announcement of results.

To avoid these pitfalls, the Elections Observation group (Elog), a coalition of Kenyan civil society groups and faith-based organisations, employed a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) in their observation of the recently concluded referendum.

Through the PVT methodology, also known as Quick Count, Elog was able to deliver an accurate projection of the referendum results. These results were based on a nationally representative random sample of 502 polling stations drawn by experienced statisticians from the official list of polling stations provided by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission. The sample contained polling stations in all 210 constituencies.

The National Citizens Movement first used PVT for Free Elections in the 1986 elections in the Philippines. Over the years, it has been developed and applied in more than 30 countries worldwide including the Serbia, Albania, Ukraine, Georgia, Chile, Indonesia, Peru and Lebanon.

In Africa, it has been applied successfully in several countries including Zimbabwe (2007), Ghana (2008), Malawi (2008), and Zambia (2008).

The referendum provided an opportunity for a pilot PVT project using the latest technology. In principle, PVT is anchored on three building blocks: statistics, database, and short message service.

It entails deploying specially trained observers to sample polling stations, where they observe voting and counting processes, and transmit the results announced to a central location where they are added to enable a projection of the final tally.

The aim is to provide all stakeholders in elections, including the public, with credible information on the polling process and results, and therefore enable them to verify the legitimacy of the official results.

It is distinct from an exit poll, which asks voters whom they voted for.

With a PVT, it is the polling officers who count the ballot papers and PVT observers record the official figures.

PVT thus becomes more reliable than exit polls in post-conflict and transitional elections because it gives more reliable result when voters are unwilling to reveal how they voted due to fear of reprisals.

PVTs are increasingly emerging as critical tools for preventative diplomacy especially in Africa, where elections are marked by high emotions and ethnic balkanisation.

A PVT in such instances may be valuable in calming heightened anxiety among the public, more so where the official elections management body for one reason or another is unable to release results in time. Such interventions by citizen observer groups, armed with credible information, can be instrumental in averting violent conflict akin to what Kenya experienced after the announcement of the presidential results in 2007.

The August 4 referendum proved PVT to be invaluable particularly in building confidence and trust among Kenyans on the elections management body, which had been grossly eroded by the now defunct ECK following its failure to assure Kenyans the elections of 2007 were credible and the results announced a true reflection of the will of the people.

On the contrary, official results by IIEC released eight hours after Elog made its PVT findings public, fell accurately within its projection of 68.8 per cent for ‘Yes’ and 31.2 per cent for ‘No’ with a ±2.9 per cent margin of error and the requisite 95 per cent confidence level.

Approaching the 2012 General Elections, a well-planned and executed PVT will be useful in ensuring the integrity of the electoral process.

—The writer is the co-ordinator, Elections Observation Group

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