Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The forest and the trees of numbers

It is futile to expect the general election, especially the presidential election in a general election, to run without any dispute. While there are many “mature” democracies where the disputes are not prolonged, it is the nature of the beast that there shall be disputes. Kenya, infant democracy that it is, has a long and storied history of presidential election disputes. What is notable about the 2022 presidential election, is that it is not part of a grand opera of election violence. That’s progress of a sort.

I am not surprised that Raila Odinga has disputed the outcome of the presidential election. I am not surprised that William Ruto doesn’t think much of the dispute alleged by Mr Odinga. I am not even surprised that there are alleged behind-the-scenes shenanigans, some of a deeply disturbing and violent nature, that are connected to the behavior of the candidates, the election commission or other agencies and high offices of state. What is new, is that the dispute is based on the procedural powers and functions of the chairperson of the commission.

Article 138(10) says that the chairperson of the commission shall declare the results of the presidential election and notify the Chief Justice and incumbent president of the result. There’s little that is ambiguous about that provision. The obligation to announce and notify is placed on the chairperson of the commission. Article 138, broadly, sets out the procedure at a presidential election. The details of that procedure are set out in the Elections Act and the Elections (General) Regulations. So far as I know, the procedure does not require approval of the final tally contained in Form 34C by the other members of the commission. Indeed, the procedure does not require the details of the information contained in Form 34C to be discussed at a plenary session of the commission so that the commission may take ownership of the results.

In brief, and I’m taking massive liberties, the procedure is pretty straightforward. The ballots cast in a presidential election are cast at the polling station in each ward. The results in the ward are totted up and entered in a Form 34A. In the 2022 presidential election there were 46,229 polling stations, hence 46,229 Forms 34A. All the Forms 34A from all the wards in the constituency are forwarded to the constituency tallying centre, where the totals from all the Forms 34A are entered in Form 34B. There are 290 constituency tallying centers and therefore there are 290 Forms 34B. The 290 Forms 34B are then forwarded to the national tallying centre, and the totals are added up and a final sum entered in Form 34C. Meanwhile, each of the 46,229 Forms 34A are uploaded onto an electronic database, accessible by the public.

So far as I know, the commission does not weigh in on the totals contained in the polling-station-level Forms 34A, though it has powers to correct any errors if the errors are manifest on the face of the forms. But the individual Forms 34A or 34B are not the subject of discussions and deliberation before the commission’s members. They are the responsibility of returning officers (at the polling station) and the tallying officers (at the constituency tallying centers). The tabulation of the totals contained in the 290 Forms 34B requires patience. The totals contained in the 46,229 Forms 34A must be verified; once that happens, the rest is straightforward enough.

The question of a plenary session before the final tabulation of the Form 34C is interesting. Is it a statutory requirement or an administrative custom? Is there a constitutional, statutory or customary obligation for each commissioner to “own” the tally? I don’t think the question of “ownership” can impeach the tally contained in the Form 34C. In my opinion, the Form 34C can be tossed out if the tally contained in the form departs from the totals contained in the 290 Forms 34B or if those 290 forms are not a true reflection of the totals derived from the 46,229 Forms 34A. The commissioners’ two-step dance is a distraction from the real question that must be answered: are the numbers derived from 46,229 Forms 34A, 290 Forms 34B and one Form 34C wrong?

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