How to secure election results transmitted from polling stations

Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS) kit. The biometric verification and the audit of the register of voters are complementary processes aimed at preparing a credible register of voters which is fundamental to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. [File, Standard]

There is a great hunger for democracy in this country, Africa and elsewhere. One can attest to this just by looking at the queues of voters who turn out on Election Day. However, nothing is more dispiriting to the electorate than to learn that their vote has been manipulated and/or rigged.

I have been exploring means and ways (both scientific and unscientific) about the practical alternatives convenient to our future electoral organisation both in Kenya and the continent in general, for credible electronic transmission of poll results. There are alternatives for presiding officers (POs) at the polling stations to report results to the nation. They can deliver results to each (and all) of the relevant stakeholders in a manner that is satisfactory and free from breach.

A conscientious constituency elections coordinator, or his bosses higher up, truly interested in a clean, fraud-free and legally irreproachable election would consider the following, for effective electronic reporting.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) must embrace the use of secure-paper certificates for vote reporting.

When voting ends and the counting is finished, the results are recorded on a secure paper certificate that would register “genuine” if unaltered, and indicates “void” in case of any alteration or erasure; something like the paper that the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) uses to issue certificates to its candidates.

To ensure this paper(s) is not reproduced by backstreet shops, the IEBC must ensure specific numbers of copies are issued to polling stations. These copies must have background security features, including some usually present on cheques and banknotes, like watermarks, minute font ribbons of names and codes of candidates in that particular election, and the station code and name so that each sheet is only valid for one station, and for only one election.

Phone apps

Secondly, android phone apps for results transmission should come in as the secondary tier of security. The IEBC should contract computer programmers to create an easy-to-use phone application that can work on any 3G-enabled mobile device.

Using high-speed data modems on the BVID-kit computers, they can also send the results via a pre-loaded computer application that allows easy input and transmission of the data to the Commission’s servers at all relevant stations. Also, the presiding officer could be allowed to send the results via long-form SMS to a secure IEBC-owned premium number, following specified coded language.

Third, at the constituency elections office, IEBC can lease high quality colour scanners as a secondary firewall against the manipulation of poll-station outcomes. As each presiding officer and their staff walk into the constituency returning officer’s station, they are received by a designated, secretarial officer. This officer stamps each result in a summary sheet and takes a continuous scanned image of the result slips for each of the (six) elections at the station.

The IEBC official then forwards the good quality colour scan to email addresses of the national tallying team, the county returning officer’s team, the constituency returning officer’s team, the candidates, and the media. What remains for them is to do personal tallies and await official proclamations of the totals they already know about.

Once these records have been scanned and successfully emailed, the PO then surrenders the official records to the Constituency Returning Officer – for tallying, filing and onward transmission to the higher offices. This way, the constituency, county and national returning officers are purely doing additions to results that are already in the public domain, and which cannot be amended at any other level.

But to realise reliable, fully-fledged electronic voting, there is the full monty alternative: the electoral commission can spend Sh2.5 billion to purchase 50,000 tablets and install them with voting software that allows for a simple press on the image of the candidate you like, and a confirmation of the vote.

Incontrovertible trail

You confirm a vote once and automatically move to the next level, then vote and confirm. On reaching the last candidate, starting from the lowest seat upwards, the summary screen pops up then the electorate must press ‘Yes’ to vote or ‘Cancel’ to repeat or edit. A green screen indicates you have voted well, a red one means you have not finished the process.

When the station closes, therefore, the presiding officer only has summaries to tally and report, but at the same time, the national tallying centre has all results summarised and tabulated, with an incontrovertible trail from each and every voting tablet and station.

By 6pm, everyone knows who won and who lost as the stations close. No manual tallying, no waiting for forms 34A or such; and the IEBC can generate any form it wants at the touch of a button. Therefore, smartphones could help reduce electoral fraud in Africa and other regions.

In all, the solutions are not strange, unreachable or even expensive. It is a matter of integrity, intelligence and the desire to truly serve the nation impartially. It calls for some commitment from the electoral body.