Voters face biometric verification kit glitches in Kenya elections, failures ‘not widespread’
Many Kenyans, both ordinary and high-profile voters, were unable to cast their ballots in time at some polling stations during general elections in the country on August 9 due to problems with biometric voter authentication. Voting appears to have run smoothly at the majority of polling stations, however.
Millions of Kenyans showed up at more than 46,000 polling stations to choose not only a new president, but also members of parliament and county governors.
The electoral umpire says 64 percent of the about 22 million registered voters participated. Vote-counting is ongoing with final results in the close race expected soon.
According to reporting by The Nation, the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) biometric kits were unable to read the fingerprints of registered voters in many of the polling stations, causing many of them to wait for much longer time than expected.
With the glitches, many of the voters had to get their identity verified from manual voter registers, a development which vindicates those who had called on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to complement the biometric kits with printed voter rolls.
The IEBC decided to make available printed manual registers for the elections just days before the polls, following pressure from some political leaders and a ruling by the High Court in Nairobi.
About the kits failure, The Nation cites the case of Professor George Wajackoyah, one of the four presidential candidates in the race, who had to cast his vote only in the afternoon after the biometric kits failed earlier on to recognize his fingerprints.
Another high-profile voter, Rigathi Gachagua, the running-mate of the candidate of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance also had delays in voting after the technology failed to identify the official.
In the early hours of the voting, some leaders heavily criticized the IEBC, calling on the body to resort to manual verification of voters, rather than wasting time on the failing KIEMS kits.
Amid the complaints, the IEBC stepped up to make a defense.
“On failure of KIEMS kits, we have received 200 failure reports out of a total of over 46,000. The failure is not widespread. Technology does break down and we have ways to address that, which we have done. We expect that one or two may present a malfunction but that does not mean it is widespread,” The Nation quoted IEBC commissioner Justus Nyang’aya as saying.
The Nation writes that it documented many instances in which voters were turned away from polling stations by IEBC staff because they were unable to be identified biometrically.
Hardware, communication, or training failure?
An election official in the Moyale region said told The Nation that although 9 of 190 KIEMS kits in the area failed to work properly, they were quickly replaced.
The kits also failed to match the fingerprints of many women with henna on their fingers, which had been identified as a potential problem ahead of time. Officials had appealed to the public to show up without henna, but The Nation reports that a majority of women in at least one area wore the dye.
The KBC reports the use of at least one KIEMS device was disrupted due to a problem with the password authentication of the election official operating it.
A photo accompanying an article in The Star shows an attempt to use face biometrics to confirm a voter’s identity, but the lighting is clearly less than ideal for image collection.
The results of the election are expected to be announced by August 16.