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 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.

Interesting Data on Sierra Leone Voter Enrollment

Updates on the electoral process (Sierra Express Media)

To-date, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has issued Two Million Four Hundred and Twenty five Thousand and Twenty Six (2,425,026) Voter ID Cards out of a total of Two Million Six Hundred and Sixty Three Thousand Seven Hundred and Forty Six (2,663,746) printed cards. The difference of two Hundred and Thirty Eight Thousand Seven hundred and Twenty (238,720) represents:

♦ Unclaimed cards
♦ Cards not yet collected by Diasporas
♦ 794 duplicates currently being investigated by CID
♦ Correction done during Exhibition

The data obtained from the exhibition process are being consolidated and will be matched with the central Biometric Voter Registration data in Brussels, Belgium. Voter ID Cards will subsequently be printed and distributed nationwide during the last week of August 2012.

That’s impressive!

There’s much more, including the cost of the exercise at the link.

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

More on Ghost Voter Registrants in ARMM

This detailed and wide ranging analysis of the fraud surrounding the voter rolls in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) at least ends on an optimistic note.

Expelling banshees (Inquirer News)

ARRM is haunted by phantom students, wraith-teachers, “even ghost schools in ghost barangays,” says Jamar Kulayan, who was appointed January. A Tausug, Kulayan found it had become practice in the region for teachers to bloat student-enrollee numbers.

There are 2,000 teachers in excess of 20,000 officially hired. “Names of teachers already dead, retired, or abroad were still listed.” They and continue drawing their salaries. A “Task Force on Moratorium of Abolition and Creation of Schools” is now operational.

The new final Book of Voters is still ahead. But a consensus on making honest elections the centerpiece of ARMM reforms exists, notes Institute for Autonomy and Governance’s Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI… The new technology of biometrics will be used to ensure honest polls.

If this drill succeeds, it’d be a fitting legacy for P-Noy, new ARRM officials and NGOs working to purge lists. Exorcising banshees is a welcome change.

This detailed and wide ranging analysis of the scope the fraud surrounding the voter rolls at least ends on an optimistic note. See: At Least the Kids Can’t Vote Twice in ARMM, Philippines

Fiji Biometric Voter Registration Update

Voter Registration in Fiji one-third of the way to target (Republic of Fiji Press Release)

Fiji’s Electronic Voter Registration (EVR) is now more than one-third of the way to reaching the Government’s target of registering 600,000 Fijians. At the end of the third week of EVR, the total stands at 211,291.

“We are happy that momentum is continuing to grow for voter registration,” the Attorney-General and Minister Responsible for Elections, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said. “EVR is now in full stride as we continue to open new registration centers across the country.”

In order to reach the 600,000 mark, an average of 10,000 Fijians a day must register over the course of the 60-day registration period. As of Sunday, July 22, EVR has averaged slightly more than 10,550 a day, a figure that includes totals for the first week when only a limited number of registration centers were open.


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.

Is Ghana Doing Biometric Voter Verification on Election Day?

If so, this is the first I’ve heard about it and it’s only mentioned in passing.

EC to procure more verification machines (GhanaWeb)

“Haven gone through the registration which was challenging, the verification definitely will also present its own challenges but we don’t anticipate that the challenges related to the verification will be that difficult,” Samuel Yorke Aidoo said.

Unlike the machines used for the registration process which sometimes broke down, the verification machines, he assured, “is handheld, one machine without any connections so we anticipate that it may not give us that serious challenge…”

He, however, added that the EC is making arrangements to procure backups at electoral and zonal levels so that they can make quick interventions in case there is any breakdown.

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.

At Least the Kids Can’t Vote Twice in ARMM, Philippines

Biometrics do a good job at telling people apart, but they aren’t any good for determining an individual’s age independent of other reliable database information.

Fraud found in day 1 of Armm voters registration (Sun Star)

It was in Datu Odin Sinsuat that she first noticed the trend — teens below the voting age were in the registration centers accompanied by people claiming to be their parents and herded together by people who, when asked, confirmed to be barangay workers.

Kiram (not his real name) stood outside the classroom at the Taviran Elementary School that had been converted into a voting center. He was clutching three copies of voters registration form and waiting for his turn behind the voter registration machine — a finger scanner and web camera mounted on a computer that ran on special software.

De Villa, who was about to enter the classroom, saw Kiram and immediately asked for his age. He said he was 20 but gave the wrong birth year when pressed. A woman who immediately introduced herself as Kiram’s mother spoke up and said he was indeed 20 and was her third son.

This is the kind of story that causes the anti-biometrics crowd to say, “See I told you this stuff doesn’t prevent fraud in elections.” That’s true, as far as it goes. Nobody should be promising that biometrics prevent fraud in elections.

In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) case, even though biometrics can’t keep individuals that are by law too young to vote off of the voter roles, the ID technology, properly applied, can prevent any person voting multiple times. That’s a good thing.

Biometric systems properly applied can drastically reduce the amount of fraud in elections. In elections, it’s important to ensure that the margin of error (including fraud) is less than the margin of victory. For example: A 1% error (or fraud) rate in one direction doesn’t translate to an electoral advantage in a 60%-40% election but a 5% illicit advantage makes all the difference in a 51%-49% election.

So, by helping to reduce fraud, biometrics can make it less likely that the margin of fraud will exceed the margin of victory in a given election.

Perfect is the enemy of Good. Return on Investment, not perfection, it the relevant metric.

Earlier posts on ARMM:
Philippines: Biometrics a Hot Topic in Autonomous Region
Philippines ARMM: Biometric Voter Registration Underway

Philippines: Biometric Voter Registration Underway Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)

Comelec starts voters’ registration in ARMM (Inquirer News)

Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said that they have started on Monday the 10-day voters’ registration period for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

He told Radyo Inquirer 990AM over an interview that they have finished deploying their registration teams and machines and have started registration at 8 a.m. save for remote islands which will start listing voters a bit later within the day.

APRIL 23, 2012: Philippines: Biometrics a Hot Topic in Autonomous Region

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

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.

Ghana Wrapping Up Biometric Voter Enrollment

Mop Up Biometric Registration In Eight Regions (Daily Graphic)

He explained that the mop up had become necessary at some of the areas because during the registration, either the kit broke down or there were long periods of shortage of materials, denying a lot of people the chance to register .

He urged qualified applicants in the affected centres who had not yet registered to take note and register, but was quick to caution those who had already registered as voters to avoid registering again, since that would amount to double registration.

Mr Owusu-Parry explained that any such double registration would be detected.

The mop-up will take place this weekend in eight of Ghana’s ten regions.

Fiji Gearing Up for Biometric Voter Registration

Elections office to start registration training soon (Fiji Times)

People will be encouraged to report to the VRC close to them for registration. Registration of one person will not take more than three minutes. This will include the filling out of appropriate forms, picture taken through web camera, identification of thumb print and the printing out of identification card. This identification card will be presented to the polling station during election in 2014.

Source: CIA World Factbook – Fiji

Without Biometric Voter Verification, Ghana May Spend Much to Accomplish Little

Biometric verification in December polls will be suicidal – Ephson (Modern Ghana)

Ben Ephson served the warning on Accra-based Radio Gold’s Power Drive morning show on Wednesday and according to him, voter verification would not be a panacea to vote rigging or electoral fraud in the December 7 polls.

He added that what will be useful is vigilance from all stakeholders to make the electoral process free and fair. Ben Ephson further added that the best the biometric voters register could do would be to prevent multiple voting. It would however not be able to stop people from altering figures generated from the polls.

“Panacea” has nothing to do with it. Without verification, the biometric enrollment exercise undertaken in Ghana can only tell you how many bad credentials (that can still become a vote) have been issued by legitimate authorities.

Without biometric verification, the whole enrollment exercise turns on the ID document. A document-dependent electoral system can be successful if three conditions are met: The process whereby legitimate documents are issued is very rigorous; The document is extremely difficult to counterfeit; And there is no significant corruption of the ballot-stuffing or ballot destroying variety.

Rigor in the document creation would include such measures as a real-time biometric query against the database of registered voters before issuing a new registration card in order to prevent duplicate registrations. Making a document difficult to forge involves high tech printing techniques or embedded biometrics for later verification. The corruption part is a function of culture and institutional controls.

Are these three conditions satisfied in Ghana? No; No & I don’t know.
♦ No, there is no real-time check to prevent issuing multiple cards to the same individual
♦ No, the printer used to create the card is a very ordinary desk-top printer
♦ I don’t know much about Ghana’s cultural and institutional ability to resist corruption but judging by published editorials, at least some people are very worried about potential shenanigans.

Avoiding over-reliance on the physical ID document is perhaps the greatest benefit of using biometrics in elections. If there is no biometric voter verification, the only voting requirement is to have a more-or-less convincing registration card with a more-or-less convincing photo on it.

Biometric verification by making the finger rather than the paper the overriding criterion for receiving a blank ballot, confers two tremendous advantages. Multiple voting can be made extremely difficult even for people who have multiple government issued registration cards. Second, ballot stuffing can be curbed because an audit of the total number of votes recorded can be compared to the number of fingerprints verified on election day as legitimate voters.

By creating the a perception that the electoral apparatus is more effective than it really is, implementing a biometric voter enrollment system without biometric voter verification may even lead to more electoral uncertainty than the system being replaced.

A well-thought-out biometric voting system can reduce fraudulent voting to very low levels but it’s also possible to spend a lot of money on a leaky system that involves biometrics without accomplishing much in the way improving the integrity of the vote. There is reason to fear that the Ghanain system more closely resembles the latter than the former.

Ghana has since made statements indicating a desire to biometrically verify voters’ identities on election day.

Ghana opts for biometric voter verification

Verification hardware to be tested