Technology, Transparency & Integrity in Kenya
The use of election technology to ensure integrity and/or enhance transparency in the electoral process can be tremendously effective. Indeed, election administrators have long utilized technology to help address some of their most pressing challenges, including everything from voter registration and candidate nomination to voter identification and results transmission.
Implementing election technology in an effective way, though, requires a clear understanding of the problems, an even clearer understanding of how technology can address those problems, and sufficient time to plan, test, and refine those technology-based solutions before rolling them out to the general population.
The March 2013 election in Kenya was the first nationwide election since the country’s ill-fated 2007 presidential elections, which led to the death of approximately 1,500 people and the internal displacement of at least 300,000 more. The 2007 election was a disappointment for Kenyans and members of the international community who had viewed the country as a bastion of stability in a volatile region.
The reasons for this extreme violence were numerous, but most prominently it reflected deep divisions within Kenyan society and poor election management. In the aftermath of that event, many reforms were initiated, including the enactment of the new constitution and the creation of an entirely new legal framework and new election management body.
The new election commission – the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) – had a monumental task of organizing elections under a completely new electoral framework in a period of about 15 months. As a high priority in that reform period, the IEBC needed to address an inadequate voter list that contained over one million dead individuals and an unacceptably slow results transmission process.
To help address these issues, the IEBC set out to utilize three major pieces of election technology for the first time: biometric voter registration (BVR), electronic voter identification (EVID), and a results transmission system (RTS). The BVR system, and the new voters list it generated, was meant to provide greater transparency and trust in the country’s voters list. In addition, the SMS-based RTS was meant to provide a quick and efficient way for citizens to receive provisional results.
In the end, the effectiveness of these technologies showed mixed results. The new BVR system did provide an enhanced level of transparency to the country’s voters list and was widely hailed as being a success. Although, the voters list still showed a concerning level of underrepresentation of women and youth.
Also, the RTS struggled on election night, as poll workers weren’t trained properly and the distribution of mobile phones was delayed in some cases. Again, this was largely because of inadequate time and resources to effectively plan, refine and implement the system. The sum of these RTS issues meant that only 49 percent of polling stations reported their provisional results on election night, which was inadequate to provide a snapshot of the results to the general public.
Ultimately, the introduction of technology had broad political support, but the constitutionally-mandated timeline was just too compressed for effective implementation. At several points in the pre-election process, the IEBC did plan to delay implementing some of these technologies until future elections due to the compressed timeline. However, pressure emanating from political stakeholders forced the IEBC to implement these technologies under tight deadlines, even despite the guidance from the IFES and international advisors.
Without question, the IEBC had a monumental task to accomplish in 15 months in one of the most contentious election environments in the world. The scale of what the IEBC was able to achieve was ambitious and impressive for even the most seasoned of election commissions around the world.
The 2013 election in Kenya will be a good case study showing that technology can enhance the transparency of an electoral process, but it is not magic. Technology must be implemented in an environment where there is time to plan, test and further refine before a broad, wholescale introduction to the general public.