A valid register of voters is the foundation of credible and inclusive democracy. The register of voters distinguishes between those who can be allowed to vote from those who cannot. Proper planning for elections must be preceded by establishing whether or not we have a credible and comprehensive voter register.
Article 88 of the Constitution mandates the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to revise the voter register by adding eligible voters to the principal register and updating by deleting the names of dead voters, effecting transfers, and corrections.
In the run-up to the 2013 polls, IEBC managed to register 14.3 million voters in 30 days, using biometric voter registration kits. At the time, the target was to register 18 million voters against an estimated voting population of 21 million.
Using the 2009 census and the figures of those who have acquired ID cards, we now know the proportion of non-registered voters compared to the estimated voting population at the close of registration in 2012.
There are two categories of counties with high proportions of non-registered voters. The first is the sparsely populated arid and semi-arid lands among them Kwale (43 per cent), Kilifi (34 per cent), Tana River (35 per cent), Garissa (60 per cent), Wajir (64 per cent), Mandera (75 per cent), Turkana (70 per cent), Samburu (46 per cent), West Pokot (55 per cent), Baringo (34 per cent), Narok (36 per cent), and Kitui (31 per cent).
The second category comprises counties with high population but low voter registration. They include Trans Nzoia (39 per cent), Bungoma (36 per cent), Busia (27 per cent), Kakamega (27 per cent), Nandi (27 per cent), Makueni (27 per cent), Meru (24 per cent), Migori (33 per cent), Kisii (23 per cent), Nyamira (21 per cent), Siaya (20 per cent) and Homa Bay (26 per cent). There will be 25 million eligible voters by 2017. With 14.3 million already registered, 10.7 million will be unregistered if no action is taken.
So this begs the question: how do we ensure that these would-be voters are registered? IEBC’s strategic plan 2016-2020, which is under development, outlines some critical measures to boost voter numbers.
The commission relaunched continuous voter registration (CVR) in April 2014 but by December 2014, only 38,304 persons had been registered. This poor performance is attributed to the fact that the registration is carried out only at IEBC’s constituency offices countrywide and Huduma centres.
IEBC plans to reverse the situation by mounting a national voter registration campaign across the over 24,000 registration centres at least twice before the next General Election. With adequate funding, this approach should yield about eight million new voters.
The other issue to deal with is the registration of Kenyans living outside the country. So far, there is no reliable data that shows the actual number and distribution of Kenyans living abroad. Election operations for external voting are expensive and numbers must inform investment and logistics.
The commission launched an online survey to ascertain where the potential voters are. The outcome of the survey will help the commission identify registration and polling centres. The commission is reviewing its policy on diaspora voting to ensure that there is progressive realisation of this mandate.
The IEBC will not only be striving to increase the number of registered voters, it must interrogate the entire process to ensure that the gaps between those who are 18 and above and those who acquire ID cards, and those who register and those who turn up to vote are reduced. They must be encouraged to walk the entire journey of the voting process. The approach must be holistic, participatory and sustainable.
If we were to be honest and candid, the lack of ID cards, which is often cited as the root cause of poor voter registration, is just one broken cog in the wheel.
There are other factors such as poverty, poor infrastructure, conflicts, cultural barriers, and inadequate policies that must be addressed in the long-term. Boosting voter numbers will, therefore, require the efforts of all players and stakeholders.
The writer is the commission secretary/chief executive officer of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. [email protected]