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Let us learn from the Raila petition

By Jotham Mwashighadi | January 7th 2017

When the Supreme Court of Kenya convened after the election of 2013 to hear the Raila petition, a concoction of tribal and political tension, awful and nauseating as burning cat fur cascaded between Kibra and Uthiru, Mathare and Huruma.

 I, therefore, feel ashamed that we the people of Kenya have not carried with us the lessons of that grueling petition exercise into our future political endeavors.

Most likely you will find many a Kenyan who remembers the face of the brilliant Kethi Kilonzo, Professor Githu Muigai petitioning to be admitted as a friend of the court or the eloquent speeches of Gladys Shollei to the press. The real lessons have been lost. The sad thing is that Kenya badly needs those lessons now.

The petition was mainly based on the malfunction of the technology deployed during the election. The petitioner sought to establish that the massive failure of voter identification equipment, as well as break down of electronic transmission of results, had affected the quality of elections to the extent that the results were no longer accurate or verifiable.

In a terse ruling, the Supreme Court justices validated the election to the chagrin of the petitioner who accepted it on the grounds of abiding by the law.

However, the lessons are not completely buried. We can filter the political noise and begin to see the lessons in a clear light. Whether we deploy technology or we go manual, the question of accuracy and verifiability will remain key.

The much-debated amendments do not appear to give any hint on how the results transmitted will be verified. During the petition, there was an accusation that the results were not being transmitted in real time and that they were being intercepted, then altered and later relayed to the national tallying center.

This is where verification becomes important. In communication, you validate what has been relayed, be it data or a signal by verifying; which means determining the authenticity of the source and whether that is exactly what the source sent.

 If this can be done then we say both accuracy and verifiability components have been achieved hence we can accept an election outcome so communicated as valid. The numerous discussions about the laws have not clearly indicated how this will be achieved.

Worse still, what if inaccuracies occur at the source? How can we ensure that polling stations conduct polls accurately and hence transmit results that are accurate?

The assumption that by electronically identifying voters, that we have erected a fence against ghost voters is an unfortunate one. Ghost voters do not vote. It is real humans who mark ballots for the ghosts then cover up using invalid voters, perhaps people who appear on the register but are no longer alive.

This evil mainly occurs in the so-called strongholds of various political actors. As long as we rely on a clerk to issue ballot papers to a voter after he or she has been identified, I don’t see anything that keeps an Onyango voting somewhere deep in Alego from being issued with extra ballot papers for marking in favor of the candidate who is loved most around that locality.

The actual problem is not the technology or lack of it. It is we, the people who are weak in heart and mind. We do not trust each other.

We are afraid of the reality that fairness can bring. This situation is likely to deteriorate further as we near the election date. Perhaps we should consider training electoral staff at centralized locations and thereafter deploy them across the country making sure that one doesn’t get to work in places where he or she has been living.

For instance, if one originates from Machakos, should not be allowed to supervise elections anywhere within Machakos. Such a person can be deployed to Nairobi or Kiambu. This can go a long way in curing irregularities in party strongholds.

Additionally, we may need to create procedural controls within the system to bolster the integrity of what the system will give out. Can we have the system issue a ticket to a voter after identification? Can these tickets be collected in a special box for counting to determine the voter turnout at each polling station? Can we include a computer log of identified voters in the form 16A?

 We must remember that in 2013, the petitioner had to sue the IEBC in order to obtain some computer information which he deemed critical in his petition.

Whatever happens at polling stations across Kenya on Election Day, transmission of results will be something that everyone will hold a breath for. It has brought controversy before and inflamed passions.

I feel we can build trust in it by having at least two systems transmitting. Polling stations can transmit immediately they are done with counting.

Later, County tallying centers can transmit the collated results from the constituencies within its jurisdiction. This will aid the verification process.

Verification is the most important component in this process. For this reason, the whole election should be conducted in a manner that can allow for manual verification if need be.

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