Electoral Biometrics: Kenya & Zimbabwe

There we’re quite a few interesting developments in the world of biometrics yesterday that I didn’t get a chance to highlight here…

Two of them have to do with biometric elections in Africa. First, it looks like the on-again-off-again biometric voter roll for Kenya may be on again. If it is, you’ll certainly see more on the matter here. If you need a chance to catch up on the saga,  here’s our most recent post on the subject.

Meanwhile there’s considerable interest in applying biometric technology to voter registration in Zimbabwe. Other Zimbabwe posts are here. Biometric voter systems have a lot to recommend them, especially in young democracies or those with a civil society emerging as a potent force capable of holding governments responsive to the rule of law. Zimbabwe’s democracy problems don’t seem to be the kind that are solved with information technology.

Kenya: No Biometric Voter Roll This Time — UPDATE: Declines US Offer of Free Registration Kits

AUG. 3, 2012
It looks to be official. Kenya will not be using biometric ID management techniques in the national elections of March 2013.

Kenya scraps electronic registration plan for vote next year (Reuters)

Kenya’s electoral commission has abandoned plans to introduce an electronic register of voters after the tendering process descended into acrimony, stirring fears among members of parliament that an election next year will be marred by fraud.

Next March’s general election will be the first since a disputed poll in 2007 that triggered a politically-fuelled ethnic slaughter in which more than 1,200 people were killed.

MPs grill IEBC over canceled tender (Capital FM – Nairobi)

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) spent Thursday morning defended its decision to cancel the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) tender and outlining its preparedness for the 2013 General Election.

Appearing before a joint parliamentary committee of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committees, IEBC chairman Isaack Hassan said that two of the shortlisted bidders failed in the due diligence report while the other two quoted above IEBC’s budget.

Hassan, though without further explanation said the decision was made after the process became ‘murky’ and after it was infiltrated by ‘extraneous’ factors.

Now Kenya has to conduct the next years elections the “old fashioned way.” In and of itself, this isn’t a problem. Until a few years ago, everyone that conducted a clean election did it without biometrics. Applied correctly, however, biometrics can make corruption of the electoral process more difficult.

It’s also refreshing, in a way, that the IBCE backed off and admitted that it could not come to a decision on the proper way to implement biometrics in the elections.

A rigorously executed biometric election is a very complex undertaking (and I still think we’re witnessing progress toward a more perfect  implementation template) so early adopters need to have a strategic vision and the managerial acumen to pull it off.

Also, biometric elections are expensive — in our opinion, more expensive than they should be — and it’s hard for government agencies to turn down the opportunity to direct large sums of donated money and even larger amounts of public funds. The IEBC’s decision is all the more striking given Kenya’s perceived level of public corruption (ranked 122nd of 150 countries by worldaudit.org and 154 of 183 by Transparency International).

Nevertheless, the IBCE still has its work cut out for it.

UPDATE AUG. 6, 2012: IEBC Team Rejected Hillary Clinton’s BVR Kit Offer

“The IEBC was concerned that even granted that the political implications were put aside, time constraints would make the operationalisation of the project impossible owing to the limited time left,” said the source.

The Commission on Implementation of the Constitution chairman, Charles Nyachae, confirmed that the issue of BVR featured in the discussions with Clinton. He said he got the impression that the issue had featured in Clinton’s earlier meetings with President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and National Assembly Speaker Marende due to the special emphasis she seemed to have on it.

Biometric voter registration kits are expensive but the the training, voter education, and logistical aspects of a biometric voter registration effort are extremely daunting, too.

See aslo:
Clinton seeks free, fair polls in Kenya (Afriquejet)

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton arrived in Nairobi Saturday for a meeting with Kenyan leaders and sounded Washington’s strongest warning ever that a repeat of the 2007 Presidential vote-related violence would not be tolerated. “We as a partner and friend are hoping that this election, which is complex, goes very smoothly so that everyone is so proud because of what has been achieved,” Clinton said after meeting Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki shortly after arriving in the Kenyan capital on a flight from Entebbe, Uganda.

Kenya Elections

ELECTORAL COMMISSION CANCELS BIOMETRIC REGISTER This follows a controversy that emerged after the IEBC failed to award the tender for the Biometric Voter Registration kits to the lowest evaluated bidder.

EDITORIAL: IEBC Must Be Above Reproach


For historical context, the 2008 elections resulted in  violence, misery and destruction.

If Kenya is willing and able to institutionalize clean procurement and clean elections, biometrics can help. If not, they can’t.

Kenya: Govt to Use Manual Voter Listing After Tender Row

Kenya: Procurement for Biometric Voter System Gets Messy

Kenya: IEBC Tender Team Quits Over Biometric Deal (All Africa)

Uncertainty hangs over the process of awarding the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) solution kits contract after the IEBC tender committee stepped aside last week. The team quit following weeks of squabbles pitting some IEBC commissioners against its secretariat and they have been tussling over which firm is the most suitable to be awarded the tender.

The Praxedes Tororey-led committee handed in their resignation on Friday, only days after CEO James Oswago appeared to reject their second report for the multibillion-shilling tender award. Oswago had written to the Public Procurement and Oversight Authority (PPOA) seeking guidance on the recommendation to award the tender to Face Technologies of South Africa that emerged third in cost evaluation.

A discussion of vendors and prices follows.

Kenya Moving Towards Biometric Voter Register

Kenya: Three Billion Tender Above Board, Says IEBC Boss (All Africa)

IEBC boss Ahmed Issack has admitted the delay in awarding the Biometric Voter Registration tender but denied foul play. Issack, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, chairman said his commission has not been threatened by any donor or vendor on the tender contrary to reports in the Star last week. He said the commission is not turning back on technology although it may not meet the huge expectations. “The regrettable delay in awarding tender and which must be the thing fueling speculation, is as a result of ensuring that due diligence is followed in the entire process,” Issack said in a statement published elsewhere in this paper.

More on Kenya Election Budget Requests

Following up on yesterday’s post: How much should an election cost?

IEBC Scratching Head Over Sh17 Billion Poll Budget (All Africa)

Nairobi, Kenya — The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is now seeking to borrow resources from countries within the East African Community (EAC) region in a bid to reduce its budget and work within the Sh17.5 billion limit allocated by the Treasury.

Chairman Isaack Hassan said on Monday that the commission will be looking to acquire biometric voter registration equipment and technological know how from its East African counterparts.

He added that negotiations with the Treasury to revise the budget upwards were still ongoing as the commission seeks to reduce its initial budget of Sh40 billion cut back on other costs.

Source: CIA World Factbook – Kenya
Source: xe.com

Like we said yesterday, Sh40 billion seems like a lot, but a lot of human resources, communications, training, etc. goes into elections. A good technology infrastructure for biometric enrollment and biometric verification bought new and custom designed for Kenya, would not come anywhere close to accounting for the gap between the IEBC budget request and the funds allocated by the Treasury of Kenya.

How much should an election cost?

Kenya: Lavish Spending in Poll Budget (All Africa)

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission budget for the next general elections proposes spending at least Sh3,000 ($35.25) on each of the estimated 18 million voters who will participate in the next election.

This is just one of the expenses listed in the Sh35 billion budget that the IEBC is asking taxpayers to finance. If the proposed budget is granted, it would make the next elections the most expensive ever held in any stable democracy in the world. Post conflict election budget benchmark is pegged at between $10 and $30 (Sh850 and Sh2,550) per person. India, considered one of the world’s largest democracies spent $1 (Sh85) on each of its 600 million voters.

Kenya’s next general election would therefore be the most expensive poll exercise ever conducted on earth. The IEBC is asking for another Sh35 billion in addition to the Sh7.5 bn already allocated making a grand total of Sh42.5 billion.

A lot goes into an election: poll worker training, communication with the electorate, printing, transportation, registration, etc. What an election costs will depend upon how much work from the past can be reused for in the present.

Still, $35.25 per voter does seem pretty expensive. Granted, it’s not the $40 per voter floated by Zimbabwe in 2011.