Developing a credible voter register is one sure way of enhancing the integrity of the elections. The month-long voter registration exercise ended on December 18, paving the way for other rigorous and intensive processes in the run-up to the March 4 General Election.
Kenyans also got a chance to verify their details before a principal voter register is compiled and gazetted. Inspection of the voters register, which ended on January 27, was done online, by physically visiting the centre where one registered or through an SMS query to a short code provided by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Voter inspection is vital to avoid being turned away on Election Day on account of incorrect details in the register.
In 2012, IEBC managed to register over 14.4 million voters in 30 days. Nairobi County recorded the highest number at 1.7 million while with 52,000 Lamu enlisted the lowest number of voters. This is quite commendable considering that in 2010, IEBC’s predecessor, the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC), registered 12.5 million voters in 45 days using the manual voter registration method.
The commission rolled out the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) and it is now evident that the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the electoral process is no longer an option but an imperative. BVR however is not a voting technology but a registration and identification technology. Voters will still be given paper ballot papers to mark and drop into ballot boxes.
The voter registration exercise had its fair share of challenges but they were amicably addressed. The commission recruited and trained over 30,000 clerks. These clerks used 15,000 Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits across 290 constituencies and 1450 constituency assembly wards.
One BVR kit had the capacity to register up to 150 voters per day but in several places, this did not happen due to low turnout which rendered them idle for long hours. The commission had enough spares and maintenance engineers in the field to minimise down times and released a fix to speed up some of the kits that were becoming slow due to data accumulation. A technical team from the Commission worked with the supplier of the BVR Kits (Morpho team) on the ground to renew the passwords that had expired in some BVR registration centres.
There was also the issue of some registration centres being disputed in terms of which county assembly ward they fall under. As a remedy, the Commission gazetted the new registration centres, published them in the newspapers and also posted the list on the IEBC website.
IEBC did not meet its target of registering 18 million voters but this does not imply that the elections will be less credible. In any democracy, the right to register as a voter and elect the leaders is granted but remains a personal choice for each citizen.
In 2010, voter turnout in that year’s constitutional referendum was 72 percent and the side which carried the day garnered about 6.7 million votes. If this number was good enough to give the country a new constitutional dispensation, then the number of registered voters in an election is of little consequence though every effort is put to ensure majority of the eligible voters are registered. For this reason, IEBC set a target in order to make sure that as many Kenyans as possible are involved in electing the country’s next crop of leaders.
The electoral body came up with several initiatives to boost the voter registration figures. Key among them was registration of top government officials in public functions to act influence peddlers, conducting road shows, publishing weekly county updates in national newspapers, and running television and radio commercials to urge and persuade Kenyans to register enmasse as voters. Additionally, the communications tactic of sending text messages to mobile phone subscribers to remind them the need to register as voters proved to be very effective.
IEBC also teamed up with the Clean Kenya Campaign, the City Council of Nairobi, Africa Youth Trust and the Provincial Administration to clean up Nairobi estates in an initiative dubbed ‘Uchaguzi wa Amani, Mazingira Bora’ and “A clean environment for a clean elections’ which several city residents heeded to and got registered as voters.
The electoral body also organised voter marathons in five towns namely Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, Kakamega and Nyeri to promote voter registration. Entry to participate was a voter acknowledgement slip. The use of sports was also aimed at propagating the notion that winning or losing is not the end of life but makes one stronger wiser and better prepared for the future.
In North Eastern Kenya and the upper eastern region registration clerks were advised to set up registration centres near watering points to capture nomadic pastoralists who are constantly on the move in search of pasture and water. This was instrumental in boosting voter registration figures in those areas.
Voter registration in the East African Community had a good head start though the commission and the general public had very high expectations. The commission managed to enrol over 2,600 Kenyans living outside the country but within the regional bloc. Some expected to register using their national identity cards and vote for all the six elective positions.
They were however informed that they could register using only a valid Kenyan passport and vote for only the presidential candidate. It was also noticed that a good number of Kenyans were using temporary permits which were not admissible for registration.
They commission drew a number of lessons from the voter registration exercise that will come in handy in managing other aspects of the electoral process. An enormous task still lies ahead and Kenyans’ expectations are astronomical given that these will be the first General Election under the new constitution.
As we move closer to the election date it is important to maintain peace and unity as a nation knowing that there is more to it than just casting a ballot. Election is about our future and it is the responsibility of every Kenyan to ensure that that they are credible and all-inclusive.
(Tabitha Mutemi is the Manager, Communications and Corporate Affairs at the IEBC)