March 10, 2013
How Kenya's High-Tech Voting Nearly Lost The Election
It was supposed to be the most modern election in African history. Biometric identification kits with electronic thumb pads, registration rolls on laptops at every polling station, and an SMS-relayed, real-time transmission of the results to the National Tallying Center in Nairobi. npr reports.
Ambitious? Of course. Only 23 percent of the country has access to electricity.
... Among Kenya's wired middle class, the going wisdom was that politics was stuck in the past — hopelessly mired in tribalism and corruption — but that technology would breathe fairness and transparency into the process.
And then came Election Day and the triumph of Murphy's Law.
-- First the laptops ran out of battery power. Organizers had failed to consider that African school buildings, where many of the polling stations were situated, don't have electric outlets.
-- Then the biometric identification kits started to crash. Poll workers didn't have the PIN numbers and passwords they needed to restart the software. Paper ballots were rolled out and voter lines slowed to a crawl, forcing some voters to wait seven to nine hours in the hot sun to cast their ballots.
Voting concluded on Monday, but the tech hiccups did not. A bizarre computer bug multiplied the number of disqualified ballots by a factor of eight, leaving Kenyans livid and demoralized for several days in the belief that more than a quarter-million votes had been summarily tossed out in the incredibly tight race. The SMS-relay system overloaded, too, forcing election officials to airlift poll workers to Nairobi by helicopter to hand deliver the results.
The breakdown of the system delayed the announcement of a winner, creating more anxiety with each passing day in a country that experienced massive post-election violence in 2007.
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