In Summary
  • Zimbabwe is mulling the use of biometric voter recognition in 2018.
  • Tablets used for the voter identification and results transmission worked well.
  • The opposition claimed computer servers were hacked.

NAIROBI

Allegations of computer hacking in Kenya's August 8 election have reignited a debate around the use of digital technology in national votes, with experts wondering whether sticking to paper may be best.

The discussion is no longer theoretical in Africa where an increasing number of countries are turning to electronic voting or including a digital component in the voting process, such as the biometric voter recognition kits and electronic results transmission system deployed in Kenya.

For example, the last two elections in Ghana, in 2012 and 2016, had a strong digital component while Namibia held the continent's first ever completely digital election, or "e-vote" in 2014.

ZIMBABWE

Zimbabwe is mulling the use of biometric voter recognition in 2018 while Botswana and Nigeria are considering conducting fully digital elections in 2019.

But the Kenyan experience could prompt a rethink.

In 2013, the computer system set up to verify voters and remit results to the national tally centre in Nairobi failed, forcing the election commission (the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, IEBC) to revert to a manual count. The opposition claimed sabotage in the collapse of the digital system.

Four years later, the tablets used for the voter identification and results transmission worked well, but the opposition claimed computer servers were hacked and an algorithm inserted to artificially inflate the number of votes for incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta while deducting them from his challenger, Raila Odinga.

TRANSPARENCY

The Supreme Court on September 1 invalidated the presidential election and Kenyatta's victory, singling out "irregularities and illegalities in the transmission of results".

The judges' full ruling, due by September 22, is expected to reveal whether electronic failures, or fiddling, were detected.

As Steve Kremer, a researcher at Inria (France's National Institute for Computer Science and Applied Mathematics), pointed out, one pillar of electoral democracy — alongside secrecy of the ballot and integrity of the result — is transparency of the process, meaning the ability of voters "to understand the underlying system".

"Germany prohibits electronic voting on the grounds that it lacks transparency and so is unconstitutional," he said.

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