Why we should embrace electronic voting fully

An IEBC official takes a photo of a voter who was not identified via BVR Kit during the August 9, 2022, General Election. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard].

Technology has improved the efficiency and effectiveness of electoral processes globally. Kenya’s Election Act 2011 allows the electoral commission “to use such technology as it considers appropriate in the electoral process”.

Kenya has embraced technology in three electoral processes: voter registration, voter verification and transmission of results. This means despite the progress in embracing technology, Kenyans have to walk to a polling station to elect leaders of their choice in every election.

The just concluded elections of the Kenya Institute of Supplies Management (KISM), the national body for supply chain management professionals established by the Supplies Practitioners Management Act (SPMA) of 2007, offer lessons that could hopefully reduce poll disputes.

Section 4(1A) of the SPMA provides that the chairman and the members of the council, except for the Director General of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority and the representative of the National Treasury, shall be elected by the members of the institute in a manner prescribed by regulations.

The Supplies Practitioners Management (Council Elections) Regulations, amended in 2022 through Legal Notice 94 of 2022 on 17th June 2022, provide for electronic voting. The previous regulations under Legal Notice 247 of 2015 had provided for manual voting as in the case of the Kenyan election, requiring all members to converge in Nairobi to cast their votes.

The case for revocation of the 2015 regulations to provide for electronic voting was premised on the need to accord members the right to vote from the comfort of their desired location at any time within the 48-hour voting timeframe.

After the close of the voting time frame indicated in the regulations, tallying of results is done through a click of a button in the presence of candidates, with the same streamed live to all members. In a spilt second, all members knew their chairman and the votes garnered by all candidates.

As supply chain practitioners celebrate the convenience of the electronic voting system that yielded the highest voter turnout since the establishment of KISM: from 1,556 in 2020 to 3,698 in 2023, many lessons can be drawn from the process to inform ongoing debates about how to balance efficiency outcomes of technology adoption, public interest in credible elections, and the rights to personal data protection. 

First, was the need to sensitize members on the electronic voting process. This was important to demystify any myths surrounding the electronic voting process such as unauthorised access to servers and results manipulation thereby subverting the will of the members. These fears were well justified considering the sour pill from the hotly disputed 2022 August polls.

The election regulations provided a 48-hour voting window, and some members were concerned about the live transmission of results in real-time as the voting happened.

It was ascertained that there was a discord between the electronic transmission of results and electronic voting. The former being after tallying and the latter being the voting process. 

Second, the KISM election process pointed to the need to prescribe and enforce guidelines concerning campaigning and the conduct of candidates during campaigns.

The third lesson was the strict timelines of compliance. Once the regulations were published in the Kenya Gazette, the institute had to ensure that the requisite bodies had been engaged to facilitate the electoral process which included but was not limited to appointing the Electoral Body, setting up the Election Dispute Committee, and ensuring that the register of voters was submitted on time to the Electoral body. This required a lot of man-hours by secretariat staff.

Last, was the need to dedicate more time and avail more platforms in which members interacted with candidates. Though the institute provided virtual platforms where members tuned in to listen to candidates’ manifestos and ask questions, the said platforms did not accord members enough time to engage with the candidates.

The supply chain practitioners just affirmed that electronic voting is possible in Kenya and holds potential to increase voter turnout.

The writer is acting CEO Kenya Institute of Supplies Management

The Standard
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