20 February 2013

Kenya: IEBC Defends System for Transmitting Poll Results

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission yesterday moved to reassure the public of the security of its Electronic Results Transmission (ERT) systems.

Responding to concerns about the computer system to be used in the transmission of results, the commission chairman Hassan Issack and the CEO James Oswago expressed confidence in the system which he said had been used in the past by-elections and during the referendum.

They said their ICT systems were 'tamper proof' and could handle the large amount of data that will be transmitted on election day.

"The ERT has been used in 16 by-elections and one referendum. This a technology developed by us (IEBC) and and IFES (International Foundation for Electoral Systems) and is a prototype of its kind in Africa. There is no way a system that has worked before like that can all over a sudden fail. If any one still has doubts, we will still carry out demonstrations to political party representatives," Oswagosaid.

The Election Observer Group (ELOG) and a communication consultant for Cord presidential candidate Raila Odinga, Sarah Elderkin had raised several concerns about the system following a demonstration of the system carried out last week for representatives of political parties.

Peter Alingo of the Election Observor Group raised similar concerns that Elderkin had raised in an article published in the Star yesterday.

He said the IEBC needed to provide Kenyans and all stakeholders with enough guarantees that the system will work. The guarantees should also include a fall-back plan in case the system does not work.

"The IEBC would want us to believe that the technology is a silver bullet, it is not. The commission must come out in time to assure and demonstrate to all interested parties that the system will work.

This is important so that all can vouch for it and its integrity. It must not be allowed that people go to the actual elections with some doubts in their mind as to the credibility of the systems employed," Aling'o who is also the executive director of the Institute for Education in Democracy (IED) said.

Among the issues of concern was the security of the system; the measures taken to encrypt the data to prevent hacking and corruption of data during transmission; the maintenance of the equipment; measures to be taken in case of server failure and data back-up and storage and ensuring only authorized personnel have access to the system.

Yesterday, Hassan and Oswago gave assurances that the system was secure and would deliver on election day. They said the real test for the system will be on February 24 when the commission conducts a simulation exercise in 1,450 polling centres.

"The simulation will have the same setting as the actual elections including the staff. The polling centres will open at six in the morning and close at five in the evening. The only difference is that we will use dummy ballot papers,"

Oswago said the system had adequate back-up in case of data loss. "We have alternative sites. We will have a server at the national election centre which will be self-contained, another server at our Anniversary Towers offices and another at an undisclosed location in Nairobi.

Even the National Election Centre (at Bomas) has an alternative which is being prepared to a skeletal level. The question of our data being tampered with doesn't arise" Oswago said.

He said the commission had also put in place a security protocol that designated the levels of access to each place and which was only known to two or three people at the commission. "There will be restricted authorization and the mobile devices are pre-set to the particular polling stations," said Oswago.

He said the system was such that it could isolate individual polling centers that might experience a technical hitch and ensure the problem did not spread to the rest of the system."Any problem technical problem that arises would only affect the individual polling centre and cannot spread to the entire ward or constituency or county for that matter," he said.

Kenyans are set to go to polls on March 4 to elect the president, 47 governors, senators and women representatives each, 290 MPs, and 1450 county assembly representatives.

The Commission is hiring 240,000 polling clerks for the March 4 General Election in the 33, 400 polling stations across the country.

The Commission also announced that it would deploy 90,000 police officers with at least two officers per polling station except where there are many streams and at the tallying centres at the constituency, county and national.

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