KENYA POLLS: IEBC at pains to explain failure of hi-tech system

Tuesday March 5 2013


A technology glitch threatened to disrupt voting at a number of polling stations on Monday, bringing into doubt the accuracy of tests done on the equipment.

Announcing the acquisition of electronic poll books, which are basically voter identification kits, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said the gadgets would eliminate human error and seal loopholes which could be exploited to manipulate the elections.

IEBC chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan said this was simply replacing the paper poll book with an electronic version, which was more efficient and could extract information from encrypted servers.

The poll book is connected to a fingerprint scanner which calls up a voter’s details on the screen.

“The e-poll book will identify the voter before he or she casts their ballot. It will verify that you are indeed the registered voter,” he said at the time.

In fact, Mr Hassan said if the e-poll books failed, presiding officers would revert to the manual registers, a print version of the data captured by the biometric voter registration kits.


On Monday, IEBC chief executive James Oswago attributed the technical hitch to various factors from inability of polling clerks to remember passwords to last minute omissions by the commission.

“This was a result of many factors. The basic one was that most clerks could not remember the passwords assigned to the systems while others had problems with battery management,” he said, clarifying that the glitch was not related to the BVR kits whose delivery was delayed after the IEBC failed to award the contract in time due to internal differences.

“The problem was not the BVR. The challenges today were exclusively related to poll books,” he said.

Mr Oswago declared the IEBC would not “sweep problems under the carpet when they arise”.

He said the e-poll books, which were in the form of laptops, were imported much later than the BVR kits and came with a specific security card which required activation before use.

Security precaution

Most of the clerks were not aware of the security precaution. “The poll books came with a security card inside the laptops which was to be activated first,” he said.

And because they came late, a different version of the kits was used to train clerks.

However, the imported poll books’ operating system was different from the ones used in training.

“The clerks were trained with a different machine with the knowledge that the new laptops would be similar. When it came to operating them this morning, there was a problem,” Mr Oswago said.

He assured Kenyans that the printed lists would do the job equally well.

It was not the first time the e-poll books have failed since the technology was introduced.

In 2006, the US state of Maryland and county of Denver, Colorado, had problems with the kits during primary elections.

In Kenya, the IEBC worked closely with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (Ifes) in introducing the technology.

Ifes official Mike Yard said at the time the poll books would identify the real number of voters at a particular polling station, making it possible for the IEBC to detect anomalies.

“While this technology cannot take the place of party agents and observers to keep the process honest and transparent, and cannot prevent reporting 100 percent of the votes for a single party or candidate, it can prevent the polling station from reporting 120 percent or 200 percent, as has been the case in past elections,” he said.

An e-poll books is an electronic device, which can come in terms of a lap top fitted with a software to capture the same voter registration information contained in a printed poll book.