The Computer Society of Kenya

Since 1986


Monday January 02, 2017

In the year 2000, there was a technological problem in the American election system.

The trouble emanated from an error in the e-voting machines in Volusia County, Florida, with Al Gore receiving negative votes in a hotly contested presidential race.

Out of only 585 registered voters, the machines allocated George Bush 2,813 and Al Gore had negative 16,022 votes.

As Americans went to the polls in November 2016, it was beyond doubt that they could not allow the repeat of such a disastrous system error.

In Kenya, the use of ICTs in elections was a brilliant idea, but it went to the dogs in the last General Election.

The original specifications for the electronic voter identification devices and the results transmission system would have made the last polls technically credible.

The gadgets were supposed to be 3G-enabled for effective data transmission.

This was to work hand in hand with the results transmission system centre at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi for a seamless and effective interplay of ICT infrastructure.

But this never worked. Instead, there was an embarrassing failure of the entire system, with technical hitches that led to the country going back to the manual method.

What happened is a sad story of technological failure and manipulation.

The challenges that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is facing are not unique and can be tackled professionally.

The electronic voting system is an evolving technology and countries that are adopting it must brace themselves for some pitfalls.

The IEBC can re-engineer the ICT infrastructure and provide a credible technologically-enabled electoral process. 

This will succeed only if the ICTs are well-engineered for the crucial task and are manned by credible and competent employees.

There are other critical underlying issues stemming from the procurement of the systems, deployment, and subsequent adoption.

It is not wise to use equivocal suppliers and, worse still, to simultaneously introduce various technologies too close to an election period with inadequate pilot tests.

The dark side of technology in electoral processes springs from unreliable systems and the impact of the human factor in digital processes.

For a successful ICT-based process, a lot needs to done in regard to the software that runs on the equipment, the hardware, and the personnel operating the systems.

Although Kenya has yet to deploy a full-fledged electronic voting system, there are viable case studies that it can use as benchmarks. 

Take, for example, Brazil, where the research and development of the electronic voting system is a continuous process with multiple approaches coming into play for the ultimate goal of satisfactory elections.

The country’s electronic voting systems were first developed and tested in 1996.

The systems have undergone improvement with each subsequent election.

The system has enough scalability to accommodate a growing population of voters.

In the 2014 elections, there were approximately 530,000 electronic voting machines for a mammoth populace of almost 116 million voters.


It is Brazil’s persistent advancement in electronic voting that has aided in reducing the chances of electoral fraud or misuse of the machines, which do the bulk of the work, including voter identification, secure voting, and tallying.

The IEBC is suffering myriad problems in its quest to integrate ICTs in the electoral process.

But all is not lost. In the technical world, there is always a solution to a problem.

A fundamental approach for IEBC would start with the tendering and procurement of the right gear, especially for the results transmission system, which must be error-free, secure, and tamper-proof to avoid manipulation. 

Its design ingenuity should capture the aspects of scalability, data recovery, and survivability.

As to testing and deployment, the desirable timeline is one that allows the optimisation of system performance and elimination of teething issues.

Last-minute rushes and deployment of a new technology with half-baked assessments is the wrong approach.

Worth mentioning is the critical aspect of the human factor.

The IEBC needs competent IT staff who know what they are doing and can be trusted with sensitive computing systems.

A human error, a disgruntled employee, or a grossly incompetent worker can spell doom in the computing world.

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