Technology plays key role in Kenyan polls

Sunday August 6 2017

An Independent Electoral and Boundaries

An Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission official demonstrates how results will be tallied and relayed electronically. PHOTO | NMG 

By ERICK ODUOR
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Kenya’s electoral commission and presidential campaign managers have turned their attention to technology as it will play a crucial role in monitoring the voting process and transmitting results.

Last weekend’s killing of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission information and technology manager, Chris Msando, has put focus on the integrity of the ICT system, which is expected to fast-track tallying and relaying of the final results.   

Mr Msando’s unresolved killing prompted IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati to issue public assurances that the commission’s IT system is foolproof and cannot be accessed by unauthorised persons to manipulate the results.

Mr Msando was head of the department after IT director James Muhati was sent on compulsory leave over allegations that he declined to co-operate in auditing of the IT network, software and licences.

Before the staff changes, sources said the commission’s IT system had been hacked but officials regained control. 

Back up

While IEBC has contracted three technology firms — IBM, Oracle and Dell —  to provide back up for its IT system, Jubilee and National Super Alliance have set up separate IT systems to tally and monitor the results.

According to IEBC, presiding officers will key in data on the counted and tallied votes in a specially configured mobile phone and simultaneously transmit the results to election results centres at the constituency, county and national levels.

IEBC carried out a test run last week and exuded confidence that the system will not be clogged like it happened in the 2013 General Election.

The commission also said that adequate training has been carried out for all its personnel, especially on the electronic voter identification devices to ensure they do not fail on the polling day. The electronic voter identification devices ensure that there is no impersonation of voters and no one votes more than once.

According to IEBC, the new devices, which were tested during a voter verification exercise in June, are installed with batteries that can last up to 72 hours.

Nasa also wants the electoral commission to exclusively use the devices for identification of voters, saying the manual system could be manipulated to allow “dead voters to vote.”

Tallying centres

The Jubilee Party has set up a tallying centre in Nairobi where data and communication experts will be stationed to receive the results.

David Murathe, a member of team UhuRuto, which is managing the re-election campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta, said Jubilee has set up a call centre where they will tally results given by their agents from across the country.

“By Tuesday night or Wednesday morning each party will know the number of votes they got and the number of votes their opponents got,” said Mr Murathe.

The Raila Odinga-led Nasa coalition set up an IT hub and tallying centre last year to drive the party’s strategy of ensuring fool-proof tallying system.

Mr Odinga admitted at a presidential debate that Nasa has already set up a tallying centre and a virtual back-up system in Nairobi. He, however, denied that the opposition has a tallying centre in Tanzania as alleged by Jubilee.

Smarting from a debacle in 2013’s General Election where electronic transmission of results collapsed midway, IEBC has also invested in a backup system at the national tallying centre at the Bomas of Kenya.

In the 2013 polls, only 17,000 out of 33,000 polling stations managed to transmit results before the system encountered technical hitches. This year the polling stations have been increased to 45,000 and the number of voters capped at 700 per station.