Electoral systems must be secured

The closure of the Mass Voter Registration ushers in the race to the ballot, with political outfits now working with some tangible data on key battlegrounds as opposed to earlier speculation on the number of voters.

The coming months will see a myriad of activities both in the upstream (direct voter contact activities) as well as downstream (the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) cleaning the voter register and putting together the entire electoral preparation systems.

However, two critical aspects emerged during the Mass Voter Registration process that call for thorough introspection, especially within IEBC boardrooms and early morning staff meetings as well as in the broader electoral discourse.

First, there has been no clear communication on the security architecture that IEBC has or intends to put in place to safeguard the entire electoral process. Second, IEBC appears to be struggling in its communications due to a faulty conceptual framing of over-politicisation of its work while in reality, the strategic challenge facing the commission is communicating clarity within a complex context.

While there are ongoing consultations concerning the voter register auditing process after CORD went to court to oppose the manner and Terms of Reference awarded to KPMG, it was startling that during the launch of the Jubilee Party member enlisting event, there was a mention of how the smartcard links to the IEBC system in order to verify whether a person attempting to register as a member is actually a registered voter.

The question that emerged from this unlikely access was the process through which political or interested persons can access or acquire IEBC data whether formally or informally.


Hold primaries before Ramadhan, IEBC told


Hold primaries before Ramadhan, IEBC told

IEBC should definitely not expose its security systems but it has a duty to ensure that the best approaches to data governance and security are in place to safeguard against vulnerability and perceptions of outright favouritism especially to the incumbent.

At the moment, IEBC is yet to convene a public forum with technical teams of all players to present an overview of its technical preparedness to deliver a credible election.

No one outside its ICT department knows the end-to-end system; the operating system in place, type of database, application servers and the entire electoral hardware infrastructure in place.

It is practically hard to establish how secure and crush-proof these systems, interfaces and platforms are at the moment in order to make an objective comparative analysis to know if we have the best deal in the market or not.

Without public engagement on technical preparedness, it is also impossible to determine when system breaches take place and changes are remotely or physically introduced to the system at any given stage.

Should the commission find in its wisdom and planning the necessity to convene such a public forum, perhaps it will be a good opportunity to make public consequences put in place should staff or contractors be found culpable of breech or any other malpractice.

This is necessary given the gravity of the situation at hand and therefore normal staff disciplinary measures might not suffice.

Once the commission gets this technical readiness correct, the next big challenge is for it to streamline its communication towards clarity and progress.

In the run-up to the 2015 general elections in the UK, the electoral commission faced a daunting task where by 7.5 million British citizens were not correctly registered to vote and 1 million new additions needed to be made to the electoral register. Faced with voter engagement apathy, the commission turned to behavioural economics and the theory of loss aversion, developing a campaign to drive voter registration by simulating the sense of loss from being denied the right to vote.

The results were compelling as the campaign surpassed its objective by over 50 per cent, with particularly impressive impact across hard-to-reach under-registered groups.
Equally, IEBC needs to appreciate that communicating in a complex political system is not directional but interactive and disruptive at the same time.

This requires a systems approach and not just the usual Press Conferences and tweets from the Chair, CEO and one Public Relations Officer.

The IEBC requires not less than a directorate of communications that supports commissioners with senior advisers and talents the secretariat with diverse strategic communicators who can effectively and uniformly deal with latent as well as emerging inquiries and situations that the commission is bound to face.

Neither should IEBC confuse voter education with its independent communication work as the two, though complimentary, are separate tasks that require unique conceptual approaches and specialised products with clear monitoring and evaluation frameworks in place to assess impact as well as feedback.

It should not escape our memory that reckless statements made by the former ECK chairman, the late Samuel Kivuitu such as ‘results are being cooked’ actually contributed to the tension that saw the 2007/8 post-election violence sweep across the country with fury.


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