IEBC on the spot as printed poll register is roundly opposed

The electoral agency has invited the four presidential candidates to a meeting next Wednesday on the back of mounting protests over its controversial ban on the use of the printed voter register on polling day.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has invited Deputy President William Ruto (United Democratic Alliance), Mr Raila Odinga (Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party), Prof George Wajackoyah (Roots Party) and Mr David Mwaure Waihiga (Agano party) for the meeting that will also discuss the results transmission system for the August 9 polls.

According to invitations to the consultative meeting signed by IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati (above), the forum will also discuss the harmonisation of the candidates’ campaign schedules.

For the meeting scheduled at the Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club, the candidates have been asked to come in person, and not have more than five people accompanying them.

Transmission of results

On the election results path, the forum is expected to consider the transmission of results from the polling station to the national tallying centre, where Mr Chebukati, who is also the presidential elections returning officer, will declare the results.

But it is in the decision to phase out the use of the physical voter register at the 46,232 polling stations and instead rely on electronic identification using finger print sensors that the IEBC has walked into the eye of the storm.

Mr Odinga and a group of civil society groups have separately protested against the decision, arguing that there were no assurances that there would be no technology failures as happened in the last polls when the Kenya Integrated Elections Management Systems (Kiems) kits failed.

And in case of such failure, critics of the move argue the agency had not established sufficient contingency plans to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised.

Protest letter

Mr Odinga has written a protest letter to the commission, demanding answers on how it arrived at the decision as well as assurances on its planned complementary system of voter identification.

Ruto allied also want the commission to make public its contingency plans and assure that no voter will be turned away due to a technology malfunction.

The civil society groups have argued the decision of the commission to strictly rely on the Kiems as the only mode of voter identification is a violation of statute and susceptible to massive failure, which can lead to ultimate postponement of the General Election.

They have petitioned the High Court to declare the decree a violation of political rights and want the IEBC compelled to ensure the use of the manual register of voters to avert any risks associated with failure of Kiems kits.

Physical register

In their suit in Nairobi, the civil society groups led by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) argue approximately 2.5 million voters had to rely on the physical register in the 2017 General Election after verification of their details failed due to poor quality of the fingerprints and technical failure of some elections technology kits.

Mr Odinga argues that this lack of a complementary mechanism of voter identification by IEBC poses a big threat to the integrity of the election.

In a letter addressed to Mr Chebukati by his chief legal advisor Paul Mwangi, the former Prime Minister says that the electoral agency is working against its 2017 decision to use the manual voter roll to complement the electronic identification of voters.

Mr Odinga cited the National Super Alliance (Nasa) versus IEBC case on grounds that IEBC had failed to develop regulations to give into effect the complementary mechanism for voter identification.

“In 2017, the commission strongly argued for the need of manual identification of voters and transmission of results as a complimentary (sic) system yet in this election, it is taking a totally and exactly opposite position. During the media briefing by the commission on Monday at Bomas of Kenya on the audit report on the register of voters, IEBC CEO in fact used very harsh expressions against the manual system and instead approved the use of technology as the only way to secure the election. This is alarming unless the complete change is explained,” Mr Odinga said in his letter to the commission, dated June 22.

Manual roll facilitate irregularities

Mr Chebukati had defended the IEBC’s administrative direction on the use of the electronic register, saying, its evaluation of the last General Election had revealed the manual roll facilitate irregularities.

“As a result of the 2017 post-election evaluation, most of the malpractices were as a result of the physical voter registers. We believe that using the digital registers will cut down on these malpractices where a presiding officer has knowledge of who has not voted, their ID numbers, and is, therefore, able to input their details in the Kiems kits, allowing malpractices to happen,” Mr Chebukati said on Monday.

But the IEBC’s own review of the August 2017 General Election and the October 26, 2017 fresh presidential election shows the need for the manual roll given the failure of elections technology.

“Feedback from the FGDs (Focus Group Discussions) with the poll officials revealed that some voters could not be identified biometrically as a result of poor quality of the fingerprints, exposure of the Kiems kits to weather elements and technical failure of some of the kits. However, in the case where a voter could not be identified biometrically, a complementary method (alphanumeric) was used,” says the report.

An alpha-numeric search identification is where a voter’s passport or identity card is scanned, and when a positive finding pops up, are asked to place their finger on the kit for their biometrics to be recorded.

Document search

A document search is one where the numbers in the documents used to register are keyed in, and once found in the roll, a voter is asked to place their finger on the kits for recording of biometrics.

“The IEBC is facing the same technological/network problems that it faced in the 2013 and 2017 general elections. Technology is bound to fail in some polling stations, if not all, thus curtailing Kenyans right to vote due to lack of voter identification. The only remedy to cure this and ensure that all registered voters who intend to vote participate in the exercise is by availing a manual register of voters to be used in the general election,” civil society groups said in court papers.

The other petitioners include Katiba Institute, Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)-Kenya, Haki Yetu, Inuka Kenya ni Sisi Ltd, Africa Centre for Open Governance and the Reform Education Consortium.

“The alpha-numeric search shall fail if for instance the Kiems has a failed battery, lack of power, keypad is not working, screen pad malfunctions and hence unable to pick characters or if it cannot boot/start due to system malfunctions within the kit; or the operating system fails to load data on voter register or is corrupted by malware/virus that got into the kit during the process of transfer of data; or when the Kiems drops and breaks,” the civil society groups say.

“In the event of failure to identify a voter using the Kiems due to the foregoing reasons, then the presiding officer must resort to the manual register of voters to identify the voter and guarantee the voter’s right to participate in the general elections.”

Matter certified ‘urgent’

Justice Anthony Mrima has certified the matter ‘urgent’ and directed the respondents to file their replies by today (Friday).

The judge, however, declined to grant the orders to suspend the IEBC’s decree until hearing both parties on Monday.

Yesterday, DP Ruto’s allies said over-reliance on technology might be jeopardised by power issues and asked the IEBC to issue a commitment in writing that their systems will not fail.

“Technology relies on power and it can fail more so in rural areas hence they need to rethink this matter more so on backup.

“If many people turn up to vote and technology fails in quite a number of places, what do you do? It’s critical to re-look into this matter again,” DP Ruto’s presidential campaign director-general Josphat Nanok said in an interview.

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