WILL KENYANS EVER VOTE ELECTRONICALLY? 2027? Maybe...

WILL KENYANS EVER VOTE ELECTRONICALLY? 2027? Maybe...

Something piqued my interest early this year when a bunch of youngsters visited State House to meet the president. What we know is that they got the president dancing to some form of teen dance.

The public was ready with feedback. We ranted, we howled and made cat calls. Made the president look like some nincompoop who is out of touch with the economy, with bad roads, with inflation..blah...blah...blah we went on and on.

One thing we, the adults, forgot, is that our president knows which age group comprises the biggest potential voter bloc. It is the demographic of Kenyans under 35 years old. His dancing campaign was actually to get more people of that age group to sign up as voters. We hope he was able to net them in.

There are other countries that have tried electronic voting, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Namibia, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Romania, Switzerland, the UK, Venezuela, and the Philippines. It’s time to consider letting voters cast a ballot from the comfort of their homes or even on the screens of their mobile phones.

Today, we are living in an increasingly interconnected world. We no longer doubt a tweet from President Donald Trump. We even have a chance to directly respond to him through his authentic Twitter account. Our own political class is quickly getting acquainted with social media in order to become relevant to a younger generation where they know their voters are at.

Some times back, during the Jubilee Party primaries, many Nairobi residents swore that one candidate would not clinch the ticket for governor seat because all he does is to engage Nairobians on Twitter. 

That was a mostly sarcastic jibe at the man, but we have to acknowledge that social media in particular has grown exponentially in popularity, especially amongst the youth in Africa. The eagerness of this demographic to embrace it for political and social activism has been demonstrated in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt during the ‘Arab Spring’ Revolution.

A growing number of young Kenyans have successfully in the past, used social media to raise critical issues in the government sphere, such as the misappropriation of government funds and charges of corruption against government officials. 

Affordable and readily available consumer technology such as mobile phones enables the recording of eyewitness accounts of governance malpractices. Mobile phone cameras, for example, have been used to record election results posted outside counting stations in Zimbabwe, considerably minimizing the possibilities of electoral fraud by centralized vote counting authorities.

These new media have become part and parcel of our regular daily lives. Since people have less time to sit in town hall meetings (here it involves going to rallies and all those political forums) with politicians, and still expect results, they are bound to engage them via other platforms of discussion. They will expect feedback on their questions. Life is busy, we have things to do, and people are no longer so patient as to wait for some types of results or outcomes. The political class will have to engage their followers instantly, whether it is in the dead of night or high noon. Their engagements must move from banter to answering crucial development-related questions.

Times have changed. The world has moved too fast, thanks to mind-boggling technological innovations. We are now talking of a sharing economy, where almost everything could be accessed through sharing. They say sharing is caring, and the systems have come up with practical solutions such as Airbnb, Couchsurfing, and just about everything.

 The youthful generation is a lot more mobile than past generations, and therefore, it is not unfathomable that a good number of young people out there are starting to view many utilities as services and do not mind just paying for that service. Government must therefore tailor their ideals to capture the imaginations of such a fleeting group of people.

Millennials will be interested in politics. They will have matured up and got into parental responsibilities, and therefore will want to influence policy and governance. However, this is a crop that would prefer to cast their vote online, rather than step out to go and queue for hours. 

It could be hard coming. I do not see technology saving us from the queue any time soon.

Interestingly though, where traditional media such as radio and television have consistently played significant roles in elections and democracy, ICT technologies have radically transformed the information arena. The technology could be the magic bullet toward better governance.

Hon. Mike Sonko sometime back turned to social media for advice, 17k people interacted with him.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, between 2010 and 2015, mobile subscriptions in Africa rose from 45.4 to 73.5 per 100 people. At the same time, broadband subscriptions have grown nearly tenfold, from 1.8 per 100 people to 17.4.

 Approximately 28.6 percent of Africa’s 1.1 billion population is now able to go online, using their cell phones or computers, as per Internet World Stats.

The newfound ability to communicate to the masses in real-time, to seamlessly connect citizens to each other has many implications to democracy and elections in particular. 

Elections are the primary means by which voters hold those elected to office accountable. While elections create an accountability mechanism, there must also be accountability within an election process if it is to be genuine.

For citizens to push for improved accountability and greater transparency, they require access to information, knowledge about policy options, and tools to hold those in power responsible. Increasing rates of cell phone use and internet penetration facilitate access to information and reporting of issues. 

Voters want real-time monitoring of results, and they could employ social media crowd-sourcing methods for that. The issue that I feel we are going to grapple with is how the incumbent political class in Africa does not want to retire. 

Looking at the evolution of electronic voting, Estonia takes the cup when it comes to electronic voting, which it has done since 2007. The tiny Baltic nation has a population of less than 2 million.

There are other countries that have tried electronic voting, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Namibia, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Romania, Switzerland, the UK, Venezuela, and the Philippines. It’s time to consider letting voters cast a ballot from the comfort of their homes or even on the screens of their mobile phones.

According to Google, Electronic or e-voting is voting by electronic means. It can also involve the transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, private computer networks, or the Internet.

Innovations offered by electronic voting and counting can create opportunities for a more inclusive election process. Increased accessibility is one of the arguments in favor of the adoption of such technologies.

Electronic voting machines may also facilitate the provision of ballots in other languages, with little additional cost, which may enfranchise linguistic minorities. Remote Internet voting may increase participation among military personnel and other voters living abroad.

But with technological advancement, there is bound to be some challenges. Electronic voting and counting technologies pose a challenge to ensuring transparency, since many visually-verifiable steps in a traditional election such as how ballots were marked are automated inside a machine and, therefore, cannot be seen by the voter and others. In such circumstances, particular efforts must be made to provide transparency in each step of the process. 

The security of the electoral process is critical for all elections. There are always points at which those wishing to manipulate the system could attempt to manipulate vote data. System security is especially important for electronic voting and counting systems, which may introduce new vulnerabilities into an election process.

These vulnerabilities include external security threats to the security of the system, as well as internal threats of manipulation by those with official access to the system. These technologies are inherently less transparent than paper ballots, where all steps in the voting and counting process are observable.

 If electronic voting and counting systems are to be trusted by electoral stakeholders, it is important that the security challenges presented by the use of the technology are understood. Mechanisms must be in place to mitigate these security challenges, and any security breaches should be easily identified.

A degree of transparency can be afforded through the design of the voting and counting technology. An electronic voting system needs to deliver credible results.

The principle of accountability is the same for elections that include electronic voting and counting, but these tend to be more complicated than traditional paper-based systems in several respects. 

The consequences of some actions taken by officials may not be visible since they take place within a machine; therefore it is important that each action taken is properly recorded. 

Second, because many aspects of implementing electronic voting and counting systems require highly-specialized skills such as configuration, installation, and maintenance, it may be a challenge to identify staff that can perform such tasks. 

Third, due to the technical nature of the process, suppliers of the technology are expected to assist in the processes. 

It could be some time coming, but electronic voting shall finally have its day in Kenya. 2027? Maybe...

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