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Politics of Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Source: Otchere-Darko, Asare

Kenya Goes E-Voting In 2012, As Ghana Dithers

By Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

Kenya, keen on preventing the kind of violence that followed the general election of December 2007, has resorted to the introduction of electronic voting for the 2012 general election.

Kenyan politicians, civil society and the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) of Kenya have all committed the destiny of the East African country’s democracy to the introduction of electronic voting. Unfortunately, it seems Ghana is waiting for violence to strike before heeding similar calls here for election automation technology.

At a recent national conference on the viability of e-voting in Ghana, participants urged the Electoral Commission to begin the process of implementing e-voting at least on a pilot basis. Kenya has opted for a pilot scheme which combines electronic voter registration with electronic voting in 18 constituencies (out of a total of 210 constituencies) or 5 per cent of polling stations nationwide. Kenya has just begun that process of electronic registration of voters in 1,299 out of 26,000 polling centres.

Considering Ghana’s role as a beacon of hope for the success of the multiparty experiment in Africa, the consequences of Ghana slipping back are too grave to contemplate for Ghanaians, in particular, and Africans, in general.

In Kenya, the IIEC says it is currently sampling different electronic voter systems to find the most suitable one for the country for the 2012 election. Among the companies is Electronic Corporation of India, which has offered an electronic voter registration plus India’s reputable Electronic Voting Machines which were successfully used last year in India’s general elections with over 700 million people voting.

In line with the Kenyan process, on Monday March 22, Kenya began a countrywide voter registration to compile a new and credible register of an estimated 18 million voters for the 2012 general election. The 2007 general election using the old register resulted in violence which killed over 1,000 and left an estimated 600,000 others displaced. The old voters’ register was said to contain between 1.2 million to two million ghost names.

A national opinion poll in Kenya shows 83 per cent of the electorate wants electronic voting introduced for the next election scheduled for 2012. The survey sampled 2,537 respondents in 20 constituencies. Commenting on the survey, the Institute for Education in Democracy Director Peter Aling’o said Kenyans were embracing information technology as a means to protecting the integrity of their votes.

Though, no such survey has been conducted in Ghana there is no doubt that Ghanaians would also welcome the introduction of mechanisms that would make our elections more credible.

Like Ghanaians, Kenyans are going to the polls in 2012. Like Ghana, Kenya says it is determined to significantly enhance the integrity of its voting system to prevent any future violence after election results are declared. So, like Ghana, Kenya has opted for a new voter register based on the biometric capturing of voters’ finger prints. Ghana is also working on a biometric voter register for 2012.

But, Ghana’s Electoral Commission, so far, seems very reluctant to even entertain the idea of e-voting. The Chairman of the EC has even scoffed at efforts by countries like Nigeria and Kenya at exploring e-voting. While a biometric voter register may resolve the illegal practice of multiple registrations, it will, nevertheless, not arrest entirely the problems confronting our voting system, including rejected ballots, ballot box theft, multiple voting due to the normal expectation of non-100% voter turnout and the anticipated absence of an electronic biometric data identification/verification system for individual voters at the polling station on voting day.

Aware of these shortcomings, the IIEC of Kenya is implementing an electronic (digital) voter registration system for the 2012 general elections and an electronic verification and/or e-voting component at the polling centre to curb cases of double registration, vote rigging, ballot box exchange and delays.

According to IIEC Commissioner, Ms Winnie Gushu, “Voters will be identified electronically before they are allowed to vote”. After registering and acquiring an electronic card, voting will be as simple as swiping the card and choosing desired candidates by the touch of a button.

On the contrary, even with the biometric voter register that Ghana has in mind for 2012, beyond the issuance of a biometric voter ID card, there is no talk of an electronic polling station authentication system, let alone e-voting.

On August 20 2009, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka met at the “Setting the Electoral Reform Agenda for Kenya” conference held at the Kenya International Conference Centre (KICC) to mark the introduction of Electronic Voting in Kenya.

It was made unequivocally clear that they were speaking one language: Let us create a tamper-proof voting system to guard against the failures of 2007.

The United Nations later in October 2009, warned that a repeat of the problems that marred the 2007 elections in Kenya could reoccur in the 2012 presidential election, if among others, Kenya did not strengthen its institutions and also punish the perpetrators of the 2007 violence.

The Danquah Institute has repeatedly warned that a repeat of the problems that nearly marred the 2008 elections in Ghana could reoccur in the 2012 presidential election and with worse consequences. What if, in 2012, unlike 2008, the Electoral Commission declared the incumbent the winner amid a tensed background of incitement to a violent rejection of the results by the opposition as witnessed in 2008?

Those who followed the Kenyan elections in 2007 raised serious concerns about irregularities prior to the Kenyan elections voting. These irregularities were similar to those discussed here in Ghana and included a bloated voter register, ballot box theft and stuffing, voter impersonation, multiple voting, violence and intimidation. These allegations were trumpeted by both sides prior to the elections in both Kenya and Ghana.

However, what ignited the eruption of violence in Kenya were serious concerns about irregularities in the manual vote count. It is recalled that in Ghana there were similar concerns about irregularities in the vote count or collation. Analysis of violent and inciting language by politicians, journalists, panellists through the mass media, especially radio, were considered to be even worse in Ghana in the days leading to the declaration of results by the Chairman of the Electoral Commission than what occurred in Kenya.

The one significant event that in our view spared Ghana the kind of violence, killings and destruction of property that blighted the Kenyan election was that the results of the presidential run-off were called for the opposition candidate rather than the candidate of the party in power.

In Kenya, Odinga held a strong lead in vote counting on December 28, 2007, the day after the election, and his party, the ODM, unilaterally declared victory for Odinga on December 29. However, as more results were announced on the same day, the gap between the two candidates narrowed, and with almost 90% of the votes counted (180 out of 210 constituencies), Odinga's lead shrank to only 38,000 votes. At a press conference on the morning of December 30, Odinga accused the government of fraud, urged Kibaki to concede defeat, and called for a recount. The Electoral Commission declared Kibaki the winner on December 30, placing him ahead of Odinga by about 232,000 votes. What followed next is the kind of violence no one would have associated with Kenyan democracy.

If democracy in Ghana is to succeed then it requires solutions to the basic instruments of rigging which undermine it. These include a bloated voter register, ballot box stuffing, theft or destruction, multiple voting, voter impersonation, spoilt ballots, intimidation and violence at the polling station, alteration of counted ballots before declaration, and manipulation of results during the long periods between the closure of polls and the declaration of results.

Despite having succeeded in holding five consecutive elections since the Fourth Republic began on January 7, 1993 and witnessing a relatively smooth transition of power from one political party to the other on two occasions, the 2008 elections showed that the future of democracy in Ghana is far from assured.

If democracy is to become truly grounded in the bedrock of our continent, it is extremely important that we have a trusted election process that produces results that are regarded as reasonably fair by all with the outcome accepted even by the losing side.

The author is the Executive Director of the Danquah Institute, an Accra-based policy think tank.