Why mass voter registration is essential

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BY TABITHA MUTEMI

The mass voter registration exercise that kicks off Monday up to March 15, 2016 is a major undertaking of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in the road map to the 2017 General Election.

The exercise presents an opportunity for more eligible Kenyans to be included in the voters’ roll and subsequently have a say in determining the future of Kenya. It is intended to increase the number of registered voters by intensifying the continuous voter registration process.

The low rate of uptake of registration under the continuous framework necessitates conduct of periodic mass voter registration to improve on the comprehensiveness of the register. Mass voter registration is not a fresh exercise but a spirited up-scaling of voter registration to reach more potential voters.

At the end of the exercise, the commission aims to establish a comprehensive, accurate and complete principal register of voters, which contributes to enhancing the legitimacy of the electoral process. In carrying out this exercise, the IEBC has adopted a pragmatic approach within an environment of constrained resources.

It should not escape note that the commission asked for Sh2 billion from the exchequer to conduct voter registration in the 2015/2016 financial year but was allocated a quarter of the request – Sh500 million. Consequently, the commission has hired and trained 5,756 Voter Registration Assistants (VRAs) and deployed a corresponding number of Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits to conduct voter registration at the County Assembly Ward level.

It follows that there will be an average of four BVR kits per ward. The distribution of the BVR kits was largely based on the geographical size of the wards. The larger the ward, the more the number of kits allocated. This is to ensure that potential voters are not discouraged by travelling long distances to register. A schedule showing the movement of the kits within the ward will be publicised through the appropriate channels. As required by law, the Commission has gazetted 24,559 registration centres for this exercise. The BVR kits will be locked to register only voters at registration centres that fall within the particular ward.

They must be physically present to register.

It is estimated that by 2017, there will be approximately 11.4 million potential voters who require to be registered in order to participate in the next General Election. Under the 2015/2020 Strategic Plan, the commission targets to register at least eight million additional voters. In the February-March 2016 registration drive, the commission is targeting an additional four million voters among them those who have recently attained the voting age of 18 years and have acquired national identity cards; and those who were of voting age by 2012 but did not manage to register as voters for varied reasons.

Registered voters who wish to update their details or transfer form one polling station to another will also get a chance to do so. Equally important to note is that any election petition pending at the Supreme Court may stand in the way of mass voter registration. Currently, there are two pending election petitions at the Supreme Court – Lamu County and Nyaribari Chache Constituency. In these cases, the law requires that no registration takes place until the matters in court is determined.

Similarly, mass voter registration will not take place in areas with pending by-elections, namely Kericho County and Malindi Constituency. The commission has put measures in place to ensure that all registration services are accessible to eligible voters who might not otherwise have access to voter registration. In doing so, the commission will pay attention to all special situations, including population density, Residual Registration Effort (RRE), geographical coverage and logistical complexity, gender and special needs of potential applicants to ensure equity in the provision of registration services.
Furthermore, the commission will continue to be prompt in sharing information on registration with all stakeholders before, during and after registration. It will be open to work with all key stakeholders, including State and non-State actors, to promote the mass voter registration exercise. Key areas of collaboration will include voter mobilisation, awareness, funding and security among others.

The collaboration will be both at the national and county level. It will also ensure that every shilling invested produces more towards achieving the target. Staff of the Commission, including temporary staff, will be given specific targets with appropriate incentives to ensure that the overall target in registration is achieved. After March 15, continuous voter registration will still continue at the constituency level up to early 2017 when the next mass voter registration exercise will be undertaken at the polling station level. The political class has done a commendable job in mobilising their respective constituencies to come out in large numbers and register as voters. On its part, the Commission calls upon all eligible Kenyans who have not registered as voters to enrol as we all undertake to deepen and strengthen democracy in Kenya.

(Mutemi is the IEBC Manager, Communication and Corporate Affairs)

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