Parallel vote tallying good for transparency, a plus for our democracy

Bomas of Kenya - the national tallying centre of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). [Samson Wire, Standard]

Kenya's past electoral experiences have greatly informed how we run elections. It has been a progressive push for electoral justice and accountability to ensure that every eligible voter's voice is heard throughout the exercise.

As Kenyans wait for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to announce the respective winners, including the President mandated to steward the country for the next five years, we continue to learn a lot through past mistakes, experiences, debates and court pronouncements on how to ensure free, fair, accountable and verifiable elections.

A day before the elections, IEBC had to cancel elections in certain areas due to printing and logistical errors. For instance, there were errors involving photographs of candidates and other details in Mombasa and Kakamega counties and Kacheliba and Pokot South constituencies. It occasioned the rescheduling of elections, despite a well-publicised trip to Greece by parties, candidates, and IEBC to supervise and verify the printing of ballots.

Still, voting day essentially went on smoothly in most parts of the country save for a few reported incidences of violence in places like Bungoma involving MP Didmus Barasa, allegations of electoral malpractice in Bamburi and malfunctioning of KIEMS kits used to identify voters.

The voter turnout was lower than usual, and the identification of voters, voting, counting and transmitting results began in earnest. This time around, IEBC created a portal accessible to the public where official results could be accessed and tallied by anyone who cared to do so, including media houses, political parties, candidates, and public members. A few hours after polling stations were officially closed, results started trickling through media outlets based on data from the IEBC portal.

Political parties and their bloggers stood out for making false projections and going as far as declaring victory for their candidates. By the evening of August 10, it became apparent that Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp were awash with misinformation and disinformation meant to mislead by bolstering the prospects of political allies and diminishing those of opponents.

Another concern was the phenomenon of media houses showing conflicting projections of the presidential race. For example, by 9pm on day two, KTN was projecting a William Ruto lead over Raila Odinga by a margin of 173,211 with about 6.6 million votes cast, while NTV was projecting a similar Ruto lead of 151,072 votes with 7.2 million votes cast.

Citizen, on the other hand, was showing that Raila Odinga was leading Ruto by 223,515 with 5.5 million votes cast. Some people complained that the different projections are dangerous because they may raise anxiety, suspicion and tension that something is amiss or suggest alternative facts.

However, a closer look reveals that respective media houses are processing official data from the IEBC differently based on speed and capacity, such as the number of people doing the tabulation and sequencing of data. It explains why the total votes processed between the three major media houses differ.

On the evening of August 10, the Media Council of Kenya released a statement that they were engaging with the media houses and editors to address the issue of the different results projected in real-time with a view of synchronising the projections. Whether this would be possible remains to be seen.

Others argue that the numbers will inevitably converge because they deal with the same data. Others view the independent tallying bolstering accountability and credibility in the long run.

Kenyans should be patient with IEBC because they are processing vast data sets of tabulating results for over 46,000 polling stations. Perhaps, next time, IEBC will deploy appropriate technology to smoothen this process.

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