Governors on Tuesday threw their weight behind the Opposition in calling for the exclusive use of an electronic system in this year’s General Election, differing with Attorney-General Githu Muigai, who rooted for a manual backup.
The governors said a manual backup system would be prone to abuse and manipulation, agreeing with Opposition politicians who have expressed fears that the system would be so lame that even dead people could be counted as voters in the August 8 poll.
Presenting their views to the Senate Legal Affairs Committee, which is listening to public views on the contentious Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, which was controversially passed by the National Assembly on December 22, Mr Isaac Ruto (Bomet), John Mruttu (Taita-Taveta) and Prof Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) said the laws could potentially create major conflicts in the country. The three were representing the 47 governors.
The Bill provides for use of a manual backup in identification of voters and transmission of election results in the event the electronic system fails.
Prof Muigai, however, said that besides challenges in managing anxiety in the event of the electronic system failing, many voters could be denied their democratic right to vote.
“Failure of an electronic system is almost guaranteed because that is the nature of electronics. It is not a perfect science,” Prof Muigai said yesterday at the Senate Chamber, Nairobi, on the last day of the hearings, adding that the right of Kenyans to vote is a fundamental entitlement that should not be denied to any eligible Kenyan.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), he said, should be allowed to resort to an alternative in case of systemic failures to ensure no eligible voters were locked out of voting due to a hitch they had nothing to do with.
“If the system fails, we are empowering IEBC to have a default mode for that purpose. I think that is very reasonable. I shudder to think what would happen if we woke up and were told there was machine failure,” he said, blaming the controversy on “a low threshold of trust that has made it difficult for Kenyans to believe in institutions they have established”.
The Attorney-General said that, contrary to the position of critics, Kenya has a manual system that starts right from the voting stage, supported by electronic components.
“People who don’t vote weaken our democracy. Voters should not be turned away merely because the electronic system failed,” Prof Muigai said.
But Mr Ruto said party agents have in the past colluded to allow ineligible voters to take part in elections as long as they do not go beyond the total number of registered voters.
“Voter turnout will be managed to realistic levels by adapting the electronic system. In the case of a manual method, agents can agree that 99 per cent of voters should vote, 40 per cent of whom would not be seen physically,” Mr Ruto said.
He described the move by Jubilee-aligned MPs to single-handedly amend the election laws arrived at through a bi-partisan approach without subjecting the matter to public participation as driven by mischief.
“It’s not about tyranny of numbers. Out there, Kenyans want fairness,” Mr Ruto said, terming the MPs’ rush to pass the laws as mischievous and ridiculous.
He said electoral laws must be arrived at through consensus lest the country is plunged into chaos as happened in 2008 following the disputed presidential results.
Prof Kibwana said the country should not go back to a manual system in areas such as voter identification and transmission of results, where digital progress had already been made.
“The argument is not that we want to be 100 per cent electronic. We know voting is manual but let us not go back to manual in areas we have moved to digital,” he said.
Tuesday’s session was co-chaired by Legal Affairs Committee chairman Amos Wako and his ICT counterpart Mutahi Kagwe to enable the committee benefit from insights from the team that deals with technology issues.
Cord senator Hassan Omar agreed with the governors that it is wrong for MPs to push for amendments that could polarise the country.
“We don’t want dead voters to vote,” said Mr Omar. “We want to cure mischief through the electronic system.” Mr Omar added that the election laws were borne of a negotiated process and could not be amended without consensus.
DEAL WITH MISTRUST
Deputy Speaker Kembi Gitura (Murang’a) and Stephen Sang’ (Nandi) supported calls for a manual backup, saying the country should deal with mistrust and lack of confidence in the system.
“I suspect what is lacking is mistrust and lack of confidence in the system. We don’t want a system so prone to errors where someone is sent home because the system can’t recognise their names,” Mr Gitura said.
He said in some places, there were people with no thumb prints and they might be denied the right to vote if the manual system was outlawed.
Mr Wako spoke of the importance of a consultative process before coming up with election laws to instil public confidence in the election.
Chamber of Commerce Chairman Kiprono Kittonny called for fair laws to govern the electoral process, saying business people suffered most when disagreements over election turned violent.
“Electronic transmission of results is the most reliable method. We can’t say we are unable to transmit results electronically,” he said.
Law Society of Kenya (LSK) president Isaac Okero said a restoration of the process of bi-partisan participation was the only way to avoid the uncertainty in the preparation of the elections.
He agreed with governors that the contentious laws creating a complementary mechanism for identification of voters and transmission of election results should be struck out because the provision is open to different interpretations.
Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Vice-Chairperson, George Morara also supported an electronic backup, saying reference to a manual method should only be a last resort.