By Koki Muli
Wikipedia defines electronic e-voting as a means of casting and counting votes. E-voting technology speeds the counting of ballots and transmission of results but it could facilitate electoral fraud, illegal interference in an election, illegal voter registration, intimidation, and improper vote counting.
E-voting is very expensive, complicated and cannot be introduced without first introducing a system design for it. This requires understanding by elections administrators/managers and voters. It is important to be specific on what aspects of the voting will be electronic. Is it the actual voting and where – at polling stations or remotely from the home computer of a voter? Or should it be used only to count, tally and transmit manually cast ballots? Do we have the resources required for the purchase of the equipment/resources, training, voter education and maintenance?
There are also questions of accountability and transparency. The results of e-voting are hidden from the voter; one can see that they have voted but they cannot be certain they voted for their candidate or whether the machine malfunctioned or it had been manipulated to change the elections results. E-voting machines, developed democracies have been known to make mistakes due to configuration problems, such as an inaccurate touch-screen calibration (the voter touches near the desired icon, but the vote is given to the candidate or party associated with a neighbouring icon). This kind of problems can have an enormous effect on the election results; and voters cannot vote many times if they make mistakes.
Kenyan voters need massive voter education because we shall vote with new electoral system, new Constitution and new electoral laws and Regulations; e-voting will certainly complicate maters further. Furthermore, secure systems for assisting voters who cannot vote on their own, must be put in place way in advance to ensure there are no mistakes or even fraud/manipulation.
Also, the use of E-voting requires detailed and expensive physical security and absolute trust and confidence in elections managers/administrators. We must be absolutely sure and guaranteed that no member of the IEBC and the elections officials/clerks can be influenced to manipulate the systems in favour of certain candidates. These officials are required to follow specific/explicit procedures, which demand extensive ICT training and competencies to ensure they are capable of dealing with any problems/malfunctions.
In Germany, the use of e-voting systems was discontinued through a court order because they lacked transparency – it is difficult for elections observers to observe the entire elections process. If developed democracies are concerned about transparency when their systems and institutions are more trusted than ours; why are we in a rush to introduce e-voting when we cannot address simple problems of ensuring every eligible voter gets an ID/Voters Card and is facilitated to vote even those in the Diaspora.
Electronic registration is necessary, even electronic counting and tabulation are necessary and should be introduced, but, we cannot afford e-voting and frankly this cannot be a priority for Kenya today. Many people do not know the new constitutional and legal procedures, and systems; the IEBC has reportedly cut their voter education budget, their most important function, facilitating key delivery of services and interface with their number one customer, the voters, whose (customer) satisfaction is the very reason of their existence. IEBC needs to be extremely careful in setting their priorities. If the IEBC organises itself properly, the budget they have been allocated is sufficient to conduct elections preceded by adequate voter education.
The writer is an elections and constitutional law expert and lecturer, South Eastern University College
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