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Technology

Vendor raises the red flag over digital voter registry

Head of the Parliamentary Committee on Communications and Energy, Mr James Rege
Head of the Parliamentary Committee on Communications and Energy, Mr James Rege 

The fate of a Sh260 million project to digitise voter registration in time for a crucial referendum on the Constitution next year hangs in the balance following claims that the programme is prone to errors.

A US-based consultancy has cast doubt on plans by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) to use technology to streamline its voter registration, saying task was impossible.

“From a pure time line perspective, it is believed the general task of accomplishing registering 18 million voters countrywide in less than nine weeks appears to be an impossible task,” said Brian Brucker, International Sales Manager at Election Systems & Software (ES&S).

The news follows the close of a tender for the services that saw 12 local and 14 international companies bid for the job of giving the country a digital voter registration solution. Mr Andrew Limo, a spokesperson for the IIEC, said that the commission was in the process of starting a $400 million step by step programme that would eventually result in Kenyans voting electronically in 20,000 polling centres around the country by 2012.
While acknowledging that it would not be possible to complete the entire process by the time a referendum on the draft constitution begins in a few months, the IIEC said it was urgently compiling a new voter register using digital means.

“Our hope and aim is to complete it in time for the referendum. We are piloting electronic voter registration in 17 regions. There are legal issues to sort out before going fully electronic, especially during voting. We need to have the law to recognise an online copy of form 16,” said Mr Limo.

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However ES&S said it declined to submit a tender for the job unless the scanning technology specification detailed in the tender documents was changed, saying it was prone to errors. In a brief on the Kenyan tender seen by Business Daily, Mr Brucker said the IIEC was using outdated forms that would ultimately lengthen the time it would take to successfully complete the registration process.

“The current registration form in the tender is designed to work with old OMR scanning technology. This is very outdated scanning technology and will just lengthen the overall process. In order to utilize the fastest and most advanced scanning machines this form must be fully redesigned,” said Mr Brucker. ES&S markets itself as one of the world’s most experienced election management companies.

It has been responsible for the digitisation of elections in many countries around the world, including the US where it was involved in the controversial 2000 elections won by former President George W. Bush.

ES&S planned to launch a bid in conjunction with local firm, Circuits and Packets Limited.

The managing director of Circuits and Packets Limited, Mr Bill Kaigai, said he had forwarded his concerns to the head of the Parliamentary committee on Communications and Energy, Mr James Rege, so he could advise the IIEC on some of the challenges they might encounter.

Using an electronic voter registration was supposed to inject transparency and accuracy into the voting process, which came under scrutiny following the outcome of the controversial 2007 elections.

As part of its reforms, the IIEC – which was set up to replace the embattled Electoral Commission of Kenya last year – outlined a raft of initiatives it would undertake to reform the electoral process and the management of elections in order to institutionalise free and fair elections.

Two of its immediate objectives were to conduct a fresh registration of voters and develop a modern system for collection, collation, transmission, and tallying of electoral data. “It is critical to reduce the time between voting and dissemination of results. When fully implemented, ICT systems will remove the overnight vigil of counting votes. In future, a voter should be able to walk into a polling station and place the finger print on a machine and all his or her details are made available instantly,” said Mr Limo.

The commission was relying heavily on the use of technology solutions to achieve those goals, hoping to use biometric systems such as finger print and face recognition to ensure no one votes twice.

“The Commission is convinced that the use of ICT will greatly enhance the efficiency and credibility of the electoral process. The Commission strives for the ideal position of fully automated electoral process through the use of electronic voter registers, electronic voting machines and real time electronic transmission of electoral data (results),” the IIEC’s chairman Ahmed Hassan said in a statement to Mr Kofi Annan, who mediated a leadership dispute after the controversial 2007 election results, a month ago.

The IIEC recently completed the recruitment of 200 Constituency Electoral Coordinators (CECs) and is currently in the process of posting them to constituencies. Unlike in the past where there were District Electoral Coordinators, IIEC’s recruitments are based on constituencies as administrative units rather than district. In November, the commission invited several companies to demonstrate various technologies that could be used to conduct electronic voter registration.

The exercise involved demonstrations from three companies, Ventix of Kenya, Code Incorporated of Canada and Electronic Corporation of India.

The high-tech demos incorporate fingerprints, photographs and other biometrics features into the voter’s card, factors that were to build integrity into the electoral system. More than 40,000 voter registration clerks and other officials will be employed by mid December and trained so as to start the registration of voters a new at the beginning of next year.

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