Thursday June 15, 2017

Last week the electoral agency made two major moves that require review and analysis. 

The first was, of course, the widely published audit report of the voter register, followed by the equally important, but less glamorised, public testing of the electronic election systems.

Contrary to the public shock expressed about the number of dead voters still in the voter register, I would want to state that there is nothing shocking about dead voters being in the voter register.

Even as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) promises to clean up the register, there will still be a couple of voters who, unfortunately, die between the time it publishes the cleaned-up register and when we finally go to the polls on August 8, 2017.

So the crime is not really that we have dead voters in the register, but what people do with the dead voters in the register. That is what should concern us most.

In a high-trust society, election employees and political agents would not bother to exploit the dead voters found in election registers. 


Unfortunately, history shows Kenya is not a high-trust society, particularly where matters of elections are concerned, and hence the investment of millions of shillings in electronic election systems every election cycle. We have a high trust deficit that has accrued over time due to various election experiences.  

Without electronic systems to support the electoral process, dead voters have been known to wake up in the evening, after polls close, and proceed to vote in their preferred presidential candidates en masse, before quietly disappearing back into their nightly graves.

So the requirement for biometric voter identification processes was integrated into the electoral process, the correct assumption here being that dead men and women do not have fingerprints and so won’t be allowed to vote.

If the biometric voter identification system works, it will not matter how many dead voters, how many fake voters or how many duplicate voters exist in the register. They will all be nipped in the bud at the point of finger-print verification.

Was this the motivation behind the acrimonious election amendment clause that allowed for the so-called "complementary" system to be applied?

This brings us to the election electronic system testing exercise that took place immediately after the audit report was launched.


The system test reviewed the functionality of the electronic voter identification, the electronic results transmission and display.

Whereas each component executed and worked well, as expected, we have to remember that the test was done in a controlled hotel environment and does not cater for actual dynamics that may arise in the field on polling day.

These may range from simple things like the presiding officers forgetting their passwords to more sophisticated things like cyberattacks carried out to deliberately cripple the election electronic systems.

Could this be a more valid motivation behind the amendment that brought on board the "complementary" system?

Whatever the case, it is now part of our laws and the IEBC needs to publicly test the complementary system in order to provide assurances that it does not open up or restore opportunities for dead voters to wake up and vote on election day.

Simulating and testing the so-called "complementary system", which for all intents and purposes is a polite word for a manual system, is therefore perhaps more important than testing the electronic system.


It is safer to begin from the assumption that the electronic system will fail and work backwards to investigate the impact such a failure would have on the electoral processes, in order to build in mitigating measures. 

The IEBC must therefore publicly demonstrate what the complementary system is and how it will work to preserve the integrity of the election results.

It must also carry out voter education on the details of this complementary system with the same vigour that was expressed by sections of the political class during its enactment.

Springing the complementary system on voters on election day simply because it is provided for in law will not provide sufficient confidence in the election outcome  - irrespective of who wins.

Let us demystify the complementary system as part of building voter confidence and assuring a peaceful election – irrespective of whether we eventually use it or not.