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Two weeks ago, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Comission (IEBC) kicked off a one-month voter registration exercise, sending political parties on a vote-hunting spree.

Each side of the political divide is busy urging their so-called strongholds to come out in large numbers and get registered.

This is all fine. Even though it is not compulsory, it is a civic duty for all eligible Kenyans not only to turn up and register, but also to show up and vote on election day.

IEBC has stepped up its transparency by publishing weekly voter registration figures on its website. 

This is a good gesture since it keeps all stakeholders abreast on what the registration status looks like and perhaps informs politicians on where more effort to boost the numbers is needed.

However, transparency must go beyond publishing figures weekly and include assurance that these published figures do not contain duplicate or invalid voters.

Additionally, IEBC must demonstrate the integrity and security of the registration data.

The issue of duplicate voters seems to be manifesting itself in various forms. Traditionally, duplicate voter registration occurs when a prospective voter illegally registers twice, usually in different polling stations.

REGISTERING TWICE

More recently however, the former Vice President, Hon Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka discovered that his ID number had been entered twice in the voter register, with the second entry reflecting a different name, that of a woman.

So clearly, this is not a case of the former Vice President registering twice, but a reflection of poor data capture, storage and maintenance of the voter register on the part of IEBC.

Whereas the opposition has gone ballistic and claimed that this is part of a wider scheme to rig elections, I would want to give IEBC the benefit of doubt, because the consolidation aspect of the voter registration data is largely manual.

The biometric voter registration done at the polling station is by all means electronic, but the captured data has to be manually transported to Nairobi for consolidation into a single master register.

In an ideal case, as was done in Nigeria, the biometric registration process would have been done using Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity.

This would instantly transmit the locally captured biometric data to the remote central data storage centre in Nairobi.

As such, it would be easy and possible for the system to reject duplicate entries at source, since the crosschecking and subsequent rejection would be done online and in real-time.

In the manual case of Kenya, we may as well be registering duplicate entries– but we shall only know at the point of consolidation when the biometric data finally arrives at IEBC headquarters in Nairobi.

Even more critical is the challenge of ensuring that data captured at source locations is moved safely and securely to its new destination in Nairobi.

Essentially, what assurance does the public have that if ten thousand new voter registration records were captured in Tharaka-Nithi or Kisumu County, then these very same ten thousand registration records arrived safely and securely in Nairobi?

INCREASING TRUST

Whereas IEBC will provide an opportunity for individual citizens to cross check their names in the final or master voter register, this may still not address the issue of duplicate or illegal entries.

The fact that your record as a valid voter does exist in the final voter register, says very little as to whether the rest of records are as legitimate as your is.  IEBC must therefore go the extra mile of assuring that the final voter register is not only reliable, but is also accurate and complete.

This is extremely critical, given that the recent amendment to the Election law anticipates that a manual system of voter authentication may be used on election day

One radical way of assuring integrity would be to anonymise the final voter register data and float it on the Kenyan open data portal for researchers and other interested parties to interrogate.

This would mean stripping the personally identifiable information from the voter register, in order to publicly share the rest of it online for the benefit of researchers. 

This would go a long way in increasing trust amongst stakeholders, particularly within the political class, while promoting the eventual credibility of the election outcome amongst the citizenry.

It will therefore take more than weekly publication of registration statistics to reduce the mistrust that has built up between sections of the political class and the IEBC.

Let us hope IEBC can take the challenge and go the extra mile in its well-intended transparency journey.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at the Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: jwalubengo@mmu.ac.ke, Twitter: @jwalu