IEBC risks failing to account for 1m votes as connectivity issue lingers

IEBC conducted a simulation for the electronic transmission of poll results at Bomas of Kenya on June 9, 2022. [John Muchucha, Standard]

The fate of nearly one million presidential votes in 1,200 polling stations where Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) does not have 3G or 4G network may be in limbo come August 9.

There has been political ping-pong between IEBC and the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) over number of polling stations that will be covered or how results will be transmitted in areas with no connectivity. 

According to the Elections Act, IEBC should have an integrated electronic electoral system that enables biometric voter registration, electronic voter identification, and electronic transmission of results procured 120 days before the election. 

But the electoral agency is unsure of the exact number of polling stations not covered by 3G or 4G network, creating a possible flash point of trouble in transmission of election results, which may in turn affect the presidential contest.

Notably, IEBC is still at loggerheads with CAK just 54 days to the poll, and each side is yet to establish the said coverage, hence the network coverage of polling stations nationwide.

CAK insists it is the role of IEBC to do verification and physically confirm the connectivity because they know where the polling stations are. But IEBC insists they do not control or deploy network coverage, a critical component, given that the absence of physical data on network coverage complicates the commission’s planning. The CA and IEBC officials held a consultative meeting on February 22, last year on election preparedness. The electoral agency requested the CA to undertake a Quality of Service (QoS) assessment within the identified IEBC polling centres, before the General Election.

Following the meeting, CA, in a letter referenced IEBC/DICT/1/24/2022 on June 8, 2022 to IEBC Chief Executive Officer Mr Hussein Marjan, said they instituted a technical committee that used existing technologies to identify the status of 3G and 4G network coverage at the polling centres whose GPS coordinates had been provided by IEBC.

“Among them is ArcGIS technology, which is a globally recognised network coverage mapping technology, analysis of network coverage and status from the Network Operating Centres (NOCs) of the MNOs and CA’s network performance status analysis tool,” reads the letter. 

The CA Director-General Mr Ezra Chiloba, in the letter, said results from three mapping tools it compared and matched indicated a fairly accurate network coverage status of 3G and 4G at the said polling centres.

They submitted a network coverage report in relation to the 27,409 polling centres. The report was subsequently transmitted to the IEBC last April 27. 

“Having submitted the above-stated report, the Authority is of the view that it has offered the necessary support, within its legal mandate and capacity, as was requested, in support of IEBC in election preparedness.

It noted that any further assignment to the IEBC would be usurpation of its powers and given that the “service provision, and indeed procurement aspects thereof is a preserve of the IEBC working in conjunction with the respective MNOs.”

Mr Chiloba said CA’s mandate was limited to such assessment and did not extend to service provision or compulsion of 3G service provision by Mobile Network Operators (MNO).

He said if CA engaged beyond there, “It risks committing to actual service provision or compelling service provision, both acts not being legally possible for the Authority to undertake.”

“Service provision, and indeed procurement aspects thereof, is a preserve of the IEBC working in conjunction with the respective MNOs. To this end, the Authority is mindful of the stipulations of Section 44 (4) of the Elections Act, 2011, which require the IEBC to procure the requisite technology and to test, verify, and deploy such technology,” said Mr Chiloba.

He said should the Authority engage in the process beyond undertaking quality of service assessments as it had been doing, “it shall be usurping the mandate of the IEBC and overstepping the limitations placed on it by the Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998.” 

In the circumstances, the Authority would like to urge the IEBC to explore its mandate to engage the services of telecommunications network providers to ensure network coverage within the context of Section 44 (4) of the Elections Act, 2011, as well as Regulation 23 of the Elections (Technology) Regulations, 2017.

To this end, the “IEBC may consider contracting the respective MNOs to provide 3G network coverage in all the polling stations being covered by their services for purposes of the upcoming elections. We believe that our report of 27 April 2022, which has disaggregated analysis of the network coverage mapping for all the three MNOs would go a long way in facilitating the selection and contracting of the respective MNOs.” 

But in an earlier interview, IEBC commissioner Mr Abdi Guliye accused CA of conducting a “desktop” survey and was yet to conduct a physical mapping of the country.

“We are yet to get actual data in terms of physically verified network coverage from the CA… the desktop analysis may not translate to physical coverage on the ground,” Mr Guliye said, adding that they were waiting on “promises that the network coverage will be improved,” he said.

“We, as a commission, feel like there is a serious challenge to the way we will conduct (polls)... We do not control or deploy network coverage in the country,” he said, adding that the absence of physical data on network coverage complicates the IEBC’s planning, even as it places them at risk of a third presidential election petition.

The CA, mandated with mapping network coverage, reported to the electoral agency that Kenya’s 3G coverage was 98 per cent, a result of an analysis based on the geo-coordinates of the polling stations submitted by the IEBC.

But the IEBC doubts the 98 per cent figure provided.