Ideas & Debate

Is electoral body well-prepared for August polls?

Nakuru residents protest over delayed voting materials during party primaries  last week. file photo | nmg
Nakuru residents protest over delayed voting materials during party primaries last week. file photo | nmg 

Beyond tech-savvy, Kenya’s transition to a digital economy requires two things — a love of all data, and an ability to “connect the dots”.

We recently had two opportunities to apply this - Government’s Delivery portal and the 2017 Economic Survey – to our current economic reality. We’re still trying.

There are two “life as drama” moments where data unifies all Kenyans. Education, through exam results. And elections, through vote results. Here, we quickly connect our personal dots.

Beyond the “life skills and skills for life” agenda underpinning our ongoing curriculum review, the move to continuous assessment might just remove most of the drama in our education system.

No such luck with elections, as the past fortnight of party political primaries has amply demonstrated.

The chaos we have witnessed around delayed nominations, rigging claims, violence, confusion over which register to use and fleeing returning officers does not bode well for August 2017.

Don’t even ask about the massive voter turnout we observed in the unspoken context of rampant unemployment and under-employment across Kenya.

As we rush headlong into our forthcoming electoral ‘slugfest’, a couple of thoughts come to mind.

First, these primaries looked like round one of the election, with losers rushing to register as independents in preparation for round two.

I’m not convinced that Kenya can afford two complete rounds of elections, and the political and socio-economic disruption we experience, every five years.

Second, if this is where we are now, how prepared is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for the main event, given we’re talking about the same (and more) voters and candidates?

Many have commented on IEBC’s preparedness; but let’s revisit their published timelines.

Recall that IEBC is managing three inter-linked processes. One, getting candidates on the ballot.

Two, getting a proper voter register. Three, ensuring that the electoral management system (Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) works like never before.

On candidates, the primaries end on May 1. Disputes must be resolved by May 10, by which date independents should also be known.

Candidate nominations by parties will be submitted between May 28 and June 2. Then vetting of candidates begins.

The official campaign period is May 28 to August 5. Campaign finance regulations are suspended. Candidates will campaign even as they are vetted.

Meanwhile, the audit of the current 19.5 million-person voter register – the Biometric Voter Register (BVR) - is supposed to end this week.

Within eight days – as the register must be ready 60 days before August 8 - the report must be approved by Parliament and recommendations implemented in order for BVR inspection and verification – by voters - to begin on May 10, and end on June 9.

On KIEMS, the audited BVR is its new data source.

On April 19, IEBC announced receipt of 10,000 KIEMS gadgets – essentially Electronic Voter Identification Devices (EVIDs) – with another 35,000 to be delivered by June.

Somehow, these gadgets also represent the Results Transmission System (RTS). At least we can hold on to the fact that the current EVID/RTS supplier is also the previous BVR supplier.

By law, all technology should have been supplied, tested and certified by June 8.

So testing of the technology proceeds at the same time as BVR inspection and verification. No word on the Candidate Management System (CMS) that was part of the original KIEMS tender.

Factor in a National Conference on Elections in June. With all of this last-minute multi-tasking, what sort of election should we expect?

As already mentioned, how much disruption should we allow electoral processes to impose on the economy? Here’s a final thought.

With “lame-duck” governors, senators, MPs and MCAs following these primaries, who safeguards public finances during the transition and post-August, especially at county level? Recall we already lack a true asset and liability picture from the county transition in 2013.

Does every major public event in Kenya today happen with zero thought about related events, or consequences? Like elections as ends, not means unlike education which we’re hopefully making a process.

Back to the beginning. We love technology. Now let’s learn to love data and connect our dots better.