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Debate over manual or electronic registers use on voting day continues to haunt elections body

 IEBC is mandated to develop a policy on the progressive use of technology. [David Gichuru, Standard]

It could have been a measure of its confidence in technology, but the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) decision to discard the manual voter register has been faulted.

The method the IEBC uses to identify voters before they are allowed to cast their ballots, and the results transmission at the end of polling, have been contentious issues.

The electoral agency debuted the use of technology in 2013, capturing voters’ fingerprints and mugshots through a biometric voter register and using the details for electronic voter identification, and later, after the results were in, transmitting to the tallying centre.

The idea behind the deployment of technology in election management is to bring credibility to the voters’ register by ensuring voters don’t cast ballots twice, or use the identities of dead people.

But the technology has not always been foolproof.

During the 2013 elections, many biometric voter registration (BVR) machines failed. By IEBC’s own admission, about 40 per cent did not work. In the end, voters had to be identified using the shunned manual system, resulting in accusations of dead men voting, and double voting, among other election malpractices.

After this fiasco, the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee on bi-partisan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission was formed in 2016 to discuss the use of technology in elections.

The committee made far-reaching recommendations that led to, among others, amendments to the Elections Act to provide for use of technology, and the Elections (Technology) Regulations, 2017.

Section 44 of the Elections Act establishes an integrated electronic electoral system to enable biometric voter registration, electronic voter identification and electronic transmission of results.

IEBC is mandated to develop a policy on the progressive use of technology in the electoral process and ensure that the technology is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent.

Section 44A of the Act authorised the IEBC to put in place a complementary mechanism for the identification of voters that was simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent. Regulation 26 of the Elections (Technology) Regulation, 2017 authorised IEBC to suspend or terminate the use of election technology and set out the procedure to be followed before suspension or termination of the use of election technology.

According to Regulation 69(1)(e) of Election (General) Regulations, 2012, in the event an electronic voter identification device failed to identify a voter, the presiding officer is required to invite the agents and candidates in the station to witness that the device indeed couldn’t identify the voter, then complete Form 32A before identifying the voter using the printed register of voters.

Had IEBC stuck with the decision to ditch the manual register as a backup means for voter identification, millions of voters whose fingerprints could not be read by the system would have been locked out from voting.

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