Why media fails unified tally of presidential results

The aim was to have a single media portal providing independent confirmation, but the effort collapsed

In Summary

• The wearer knows where the shoe pinches, and now the media has a better idea of the IEBC's work and how difficult it is.

• Media houses were unable to deliver a single independent media portal for the public, though only IEBC declares official results.

Updated at 11pm.
Updated at 11pm.

Tallying of presidential results has tested the competence and coordination of the media in handling a wickedly complicated process.

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati on Wednesday was amused by the media's struggles for cohesion a day after the commission was under mounting pressure for technical failures. 

"You should be at 97 per cent," he told reporters, citing the percentage of forms submitted. "Maybe you were not prepared."

He was referring to the media collation of results as captured in the forms 34A from the polling stations.

While it is the sole responsibility of the IEBC to declare results, it has provided unprecedented access to the results in real-time on its website.

Mainstream media houses are for the first time doing parallel tallying of the results for their sites and stations.

A consolidated media portal appears more than remote at this point. Media houses are doing what they can on their own, each posting information as soon as they get it.

There might even be an element of competition, impeding the genuine public service a single consolidated portal would provide.

And tallying and verifying is not so straightforward; you need more than an adding machine.

For starters, there are 46,229 polling stations. 

More than 80 per cent of those forms 34A were submitted in the first six hours after voting ended across the polling stations.

Each station has a presiding officer, who supervises counting of votes, then takes them to a returning officer at the constituency tallying centre.

The returning officer compiles the results from all polling stations in the constituency and takes them physically to the IEBC national tallying centre at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi.

IEBC is yet to start declaring results as it awaits these forms.

The commission has nonetheless been swift in updating its portal. Results from polling stations went from a trickle to hundreds to thousands overnight.

The media has done its best to keep up. 

It is not a simple matter of reporting numbers. Vote counting itself is a long and tedious process involving many agents.

In many cases, delayed commencement of voting due to technical issues has had a knock-on effect.

Each outcome must also be verified through an image of Form 34A.

The media then has to do the math, adding up the results and conveying them to the public. 

This is something the media has tried to do despite not having a budget for statisticians and clerks as does the IEBC. 

More than 14 million voters had turned out for the Tuesday election, with about half having been tallied as of Wednesday evening.

Preparation is commensurate with resources, and few events strain the media as much as elections.

More so in light of shrinking personnel in newsrooms due to economic constraints.

The media is crunching the numbers and relaying them in real time as quickly as possible.

The struggle continues.

Additional reporting by P. Obuya. Edited by V. Graham

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