Kenya's long journey to electronic voting system

A Samburu warrior has his finger scanned before voting at a polling station in Nkirish, in the Eastern Province, during General Election on August 8, 2017. PHOTO | CYRIL VILLEMAIN | AFP

What you need to know:

  • But the Court of Appeal wondered why Nasa was going to court days before the elections and dismissed the case.
  • Mr Odinga wanted the IEBC tallying centre at Bomas of Kenya to have little say in tallying the results.
  • Kiems was to hold data on voter and candidate registration, voter verification and result transmission.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the controversial Election Laws (Amendment) Bill into law in January this year and allowed the use of a manual back-up in case the electronic system failed, the Opposition threatened to call for mass action.

The law allowed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to use “a complementary mechanism for identification of voters and transmission of election results” in case the gadgets failed.

Although the commission’s CEO Ezra Chiloba said voters would be  identified electronically, and that the manual system would only be used in the event that the former failed, the Opposition claimed that a manual voting system would allow ghost voters to participate in the elections, and termed the laws a plot by Jubilee to rig.

The circus on the kind of electoral system that Kenya should embrace has been windy and controversial.

The Nasa presidential candidate wanted only an electronic system, with no manual back-up, and his lawyer Paul Mwangi went to court to compel IEBC to stop the plan.


Mr Mwangi told the High Court that “one of the dangers of the manual system is that it has no inbuilt mechanism to stop fraud (and) is open to manipulation”.

But the Court of Appeal wondered why Nasa was going to court days before the elections and dismissed the case.

Another issue that had been raised by the Odinga presidential team was on the transmission of results and the finality of presidential tally announced by constituency returning officers.

Mr Odinga wanted the IEBC tallying centre at Bomas of Kenya to have little say in tallying the results.

When the matter went to the Court of Appeal, it ruled that there were sufficient safeguards at the constituency tallying centres in the form of observers, agents and accredited media, and ruled that results declared there should be final.

It thus upheld a High Court’s finding that the presidential election results as announced by the 290 constituency returning officers are final and denied the IEBC chairman any power to alter or vary the results after they are electronically submitted to the national tallying centre.


The court argued that this ruling was as a result of the “lessons” of the 1992, 1997 and 2007 elections which were marred by irregularities.

“There was near unanimity in opinion that, since the first level of declaration of results is at the polling station, those results should be final and only be challenged in a court,” they ruled.

It is this ruling that is now informing the current transmission of results and which had been hailed by Mr Odinga as “a huge step” (since) “IEBC would not change results from constituencies.

The trick of Jubilee to rig in the polls will not prevail this time round. They will go home in August,” he said.

In the current election, the IEBC had looked for a system, Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (Kiems), whose aim was to make sure that it was secure and transparent.

Kiems was to hold data on voter and candidate registration, voter verification and result transmission.


It also integrated the existing biometric voter registration, the biometric voter identification, the electronic result transmission and the political party and candidate registration systems.

The Kiems tablets were configured to reject entries that exceed the voter turnout in respective polling centres making it impossible to cast more votes than a station is allowed.

The system was capable of transmitting the text results and the results declaration form that is scanned.

Before the elections started, Mr Chiloba had explained that if there was a discrepancy between the text results and the form, the form carried the day because it has been signed by all agents.

In most instances, the Kiems was said to have been a success and the bone of contention at the moment is on the results displayed at the IEBC portal without the respective form 32A and 32B.


But Mr Chiloba told a press conference on Wednesday the figures are provisional and that final results will be after all the forms are received and verified.

It is a long walk to an electronic vote tallying system ever since Kenya adopted plural politics in 1990 and has been trying to clean up its electoral process.

During the 1992 elections, the US Embassy provided the indelible ink and launched what was known as “ink your finger for a clean election” in an attempt to end voter fraud. But this did not help much.

In most elections, voters’ cards had monetary value and candidates could buy cards from their opponents strongholds – either to be used by imposters or to be destroyed. And that is why in 1992, the Cyrus Jirongo led YK’92 lobby was accused of buying  voters’ cards.

It was a long tradition from the 1970s, when the voters cards were haphazardly issued and one did not require an identification card to get one.


Until 1979, women in Kenya did not have ID cards and if a voter’s card got lost all that was required was to sign an oath form at the District Commissioners office and get a duplicate. By then the DC was the returning officer.

There were attempts to reform this system and in 1982, Mrs Julia Ojiambo proposed, for the first time, that the Election Regulation 22 which then allowed the X mark against the preferred candidate be done away with and be replaced with a tick.

During the 1979 elections, one was only required to show the ID card and a Kanu membership card in order to get the ballot. (The ID card was clipped at the edge after voting).

The government explained that this was in a bid to deter people from buying voters cards.

But this led to double voting in some areas since the law allowed those who were 16 years old to get ID cards but did not allow them to vote until they were 18.

In 1983, there were 7.3 million voters and, as usual, ballot boxes would be transported to the counting hall where all boxes were opened as agents watched.


But this always led to lost boxes or boxes stuffed with extra ballot papers on the way as the agents looked the other way.

It was not until 1988 that Kanu introduced the queue voting system where candidates who garnered over 70 per cent of the votes during the primaries were declared sole candidates.

It also produced the worst vote rigging in the history of Kenyan polls. The Kenya voter registry was still manual.

It was also riddled with many dead voters and this became an issue ahead of the first multi-party elections.


The manual registers continued to dominate polls until the 2007 elections which culminated into the post-election violence.

This saw the Kriegler Commission call for a reform of the voter register and the piloting of an electronic register started in 2010 at a cost of Sh408 million in only 18 constituencies.

But most of the biometric voter registration kits failed during the March 2013 elections which was an echo of the irregularities recorded in the previous election.

While the conduct of the 2013 election was hailed by observers, the main presidential challenger Raila Odinga went to court but failed to overturn the results.


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