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ZESN | Mass Biometric Voter Registration: 3 Key lessons from Kenya

Over the years Africa has been seen attempting to catch up with the introduction of ICT’s for the administration of elections. Even if electronic voting has not yet become popular, one country that has become the yardstick is Kenya. Kenya has used the Biometric Voter Registration process twice and these are some of the key lessons Zimbabwe can borrow a leaf for the 2018 harmonized election. ZESN had observers that went to Kenya to oversee the election so that they monitored how the biometric voter registration process works and here are their three key findings.

  1. Election date should be specific

Kenyan elections are anticipated to be on the 8th of August 2017. This date is provided for in the country’s electoral legislative framework. In previous years only the President could set the date of the general election and decide when to dissolve Parliament. This was a case of centralisation of power or one man being the center of power which poses a great risk to the transparency of all democratic processes including elections.
In Kenya that was the case before the ushering in of the new Constitution and this was one tool at the disposal of the incumbent President to tailor the election willy nilly. Thus, their constitution provides for the election to be done specifically on the first Tuesday of August during the fifth year of the ruling regime. The Kenyan Constitution has gone a step further to specify the day and date of the election. In Zimbabwe however, section 144(3) of the supreme law of the land states that it is the prerogative of the president to set the general election on the date of his choosing after consultation with ZEC.
We are all aware that what is termed state resources is privy to the ruling party and not any opposition parties especially during elections. State resources have been deemed as an extension of ZANU PF, which begs the question as to why there is no specific date for registration and actual voting yet in Zimbabwe.  This specific day and time allows for parties to adequately prepare and mobilize resources in preparation for the election. So without the preparation process becomes marred with difficulties especially for opposition parties who do not know the exact date for the general election which maybe the ruling party already knows.
And to make matters worse there is already wrestling and jostling by the government wanting to take over the provision of the BVR kits for the registration process.

  1. Use of technology in elections

Kenya has managed to use three electronic systems which they use in the management of elections. These are specifically, the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR), Electronic voter identification (EVID) and the Result Transmission and Presentation System (RTS). The first two use Biometric technology as the BVR uses kits( camera, laptop, finger print scanner) which captures finger prints, facial biometrics together with other information such as name, surname, sex, age, ward and country.
These are the integrated in the second machine which is the Electronic Voter Identification Devices (EVID) which is used on the polling day to identify voters. There was the indication that if EVID works perfectly, all voters will have to physically present their biometric identification which safeguards against allegations of ghost voters and underage children which was rampant in the previous elections in Kenya. The third machine is the results transmission machine which malfunctioned in the 2013 election.
The challenge with this machine is to ensure a sustainable, appropriate, cost effective and transparent use of technology in Africa. In Kenya the Commission is now looking at the possibility of integrating the three electronic systems into one machine instead of having three different machines which all require special storage space and software upgrading at some stage. If Zimbabwe intends on incorporating technology in electoral processes they should make sure they do not purchase obsolete, outdated, expensive and difficult to maintain equipment. There is a need for purchase of more suitable and much cheaper equipment available. Zimbabwe should keep an ear on the ground on current global debates about the use of integrated approaches to ensure sustainability and cost-effective use of ICT’s in elections.

  1. Voter’s roll

In Kenya reports from CSO’s indicated that in the previous election, the voters roll has been one of the most controversial issues like in Zimbabwe. In 2013, the complaint was that there were multiple voter’s rolls that the Commission used in the election. This problem amongst others forced Kenya to overhaul its voter registration process.
Civic society organisations in KENYA are demanding a continuous appraisal of how the issue of double registration is being dealt with in order to enhance the public confidence in the process. Furthermore, the Commission established an online platform where voters can easily check for their names before the election. This innovation made enhanced the ease with which voters could inspect the voters roll. ZEC should seriously consider implementing this given the high levels of mobile technology penetration in Zimbabwe.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network learning mission report. Download full report here

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