28 November 2012

Kenya: BVR System Has So Far Failed Us

Photo: Capital FM
The BVR kits are expected to prevent the occurrence of double registration (file photo).


When Kenya finally approved the use of biometric voter registration, many thought our election managers had successfully digitised our electoral systems.

Now I understand why the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission had even proposed to revert to the manual voter registration when it seemed that the BRV kits were delaying. The expectations amongst Kenyans is largely unmeant by the new kits so far.

The dissatisfaction ranges from the shortage of the BVR kits to the nitty-gritty's of what the kits can actually do to expedite the voter registration process. Is it because we are underutilising the gadgets or the kits are just limited in what they can do?

When Kenyans heard of a Sh9.6 billion deal to transform the voting system to an electronic one, we all were very happy that for once, our voting was going digital.

Why must I present myself physically at the place where I will vote to register leave alone at the registration station in an electronic age?

With all the digital technologies, I thought Kenyans within and without our borders would go online and register as voters. The internet revolution should allow a voter to choose the constituency and voting station he or she wants to be registered in and vote.

That explains the frustrations amongst Kenyans abroad. For instance, IEBC so far has only proposed two locations in the US; New York and Washington DC as registration and polling stations.

That is limiting and considering that Kenyans are scattered all over the US and across the world. Why not allow online voter registration?

I wonder why there are a lot of inconsistencies in what the BVR can do in relation to what Kenyans expected the automation of the electioneering exercise to be.

BVR is said to be efficient, accurate, cost-effective and a proven solution for registering voters, issuing ID cards, and for preparing clean voter lists. With the BVR format in place, Kenya had high hopes that ballot rigging and post-election disputes will become a thing of the past. But if all we are doing is register people electrically and then vote manually.

The electronic voting will not work in rural areas where the majority of Kenyans are not connected to the information superhighway leave alone access to basics like electricity.

For Kenyans living and working in major towns, confining them to the manual voting and physical appearance at the polling station is a denial of their democratic rights.

Consider Kenyans living and working in Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu and many others towns where majority of the residents in these towns are working population who normally register and vote in their rural homes.

With the registration ending on December 19, some Kenyans will be locked out as they may not have travelled home to register. Things will get further complicated come March when the calendar year is actively running and the electorate is expected to vote.

One may then argue that why then not register in the town where you live and work? The answer is simple. I would wish to vote where my vote counts.

If I end up registering where I live and work and not where I call home, that means I may end up just voting for the president alone and thus underutilise my vote when there are other five positions that I would have influenced by casting my vote.

I would also say that traditionally, people vote in their backyard and not where they work. President Kibaki has all along voted in Nyeri and the latest US election indicates that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney voted in their home towns. Why should we deny Kenyans a chance to vote where they think their vote will be counted?

In the manual voter registration in the run up to the 2002 and 2007 elections, Kenyans were able to register as voters anywhere and chose where they wanted to vote.

The question that IEBC must clarify is the extent to which the March 4 elections will be electronic. Or is it just the voter registration that is electronic?

I say so because electronic voting encompasses several different types of voting embracing both electronic means of casting a vote and electronic means of counting votes.

In general, two main types of electronic voting can be identified. The first one where there is physical supervision of the voting gadgets by representatives of an independent electoral body as is happening with the BVR Kits.

The second one is where voting is performed within the voter's sole influence, and is not physically supervised by representatives of an electoral body. This is where one could vote from a personal computer, mobile phone, television via the internet.

Electronic voting technology can speed the counting of ballots and tallying of the same a challenge that Kenya faced in 2007 polls leading the post election violence.

The writer comments on topical issues.

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