All over the world, Election Management Bodies (EMBs) deploy various new technologies with the aim of improving efficiency and effectiveness of the electoral process. Kenya’s Election Act 2011 allows the Electoral Commission “to use such technology as it considers appropriate in the electoral process”.
In doing so, IEBC has, and will, pursue electoral technology to the extent that it answers to some compelling need, such as the need to eliminate double registration and the need to fasten the transmission of results.
The Kenyan Constitution (2010) dictates that whatever system that the Commission adopts must be simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent.
But in developing and rolling out electoral technology, IEBC is cognizant to two issues that always characterize technological innovations-the huge public expectations and the limitations of technology.
There is a growing demand that electoral technology provide convenient and mobile services just like other modern application of technology in business and even in social life.
The Commission does not only seize the opportunity technology offers for accountably and transparency, it also builds the integrity of the people working with these technologies.
The strategy is to enhance the capacity of both the processes and the people. Computerization alone does not validate the data. The Commission has so far implemented four key election technologies.
There are plans to integrate these systems so as to have one gadget performing multiple functionalities. This would reduce costs, the logistics of deploying several technologies and the complexity in training staff.
Biometric Voter Registration System (BVR) The BVR system is used for registering voters. It comprises a laptop, a finger print scanner and a camera. BVR captures a voter’s facial image, finger prints and civil data or Personally Identifiable Information (PII)-Name, gender, identity card/passport number, telephone number etc.
The registration takes place at the registration centres where an individual is expected to vote. The BVR method of registration was the only system deployed by IEBC to register voters just before the 2013 general elections.
Electronic registration of voters in Kenya began in 2009 with a pilot project that involved 18 constituencies countrywide. The pilot program was a big success.
Some voters, who had registered manually in constituencies adjacent to the ‘BVR constituencies’ were enticed by technology and demanded that they too be registered “properly” using biometric features. Encouraged by this success IEBC rolled out a fresh, all biometric voter registration, in all the 290 constituencies in the country, in 2012.
It was important that the registration personnel have the prerequisite skills in the use of the technology. A total of 15,000 BVR kits were deployed to 24,614 registration centres.
The Commission recruited 30,000 registration clerks to conduct the exercise for thirty days. 1,450 Voter Registration Assistants (VRAs) were recruited to assist in the supervision of registration clerks and coordination of registration at the county assembly ward level.
In barely a month, IEBC managed to register 14,352,545 voters. The machines were found to be fast and reliable.
Data from the BVR machines are transferred to a centralized storage server from which hard copy registers are printed.
The physical register, which has thumbnail photo of the voter, is distributed to polling centres for people to check and verify their registration details. IEBC also provides for the register verification online and via SMS. The printed registers are also used as back-ups during voting.
Often confused for electronic voting, BVR nevertheless provides a basis or foundation for possible future implementation of e-voting by use of biometric technologies. The Commission is exploring ways of linking and cross-matching data from BVR with that of the National Registration Bureau (NRB) to ensure that those who have died are removed and those who have attained the voting age are identified and contacted for registration. BVR ensures that:
There are multiple methods of identifying voters uniquely (other than names and IDs, there are finger print and facial features)
That capture of voters’ records is fast, efficient and direct
Security and privacy of information is enhanced
Integrity and reliability of information is improved e.g. elimination of duplicates.