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Opinion & Analysis

Rejected ballots call for voter education

We need to ensure that we have more efforts geared towards voter education. FILE PHOTO | NMG
We need to ensure that we have more efforts geared towards voter education. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) announced the results of the Presidential Election on August 11, 2017.

The announcement elicited heated discussions within the country. Assessment of the process and outcome of that election will occupy analytical space for some time into the future.

In the meantime, the country is braced for a Presidential Election Petition, the second in as many elections under the 2010 Constitution.

The early results indicated that the number of rejected votes were more than 400,000 for the presidential election. The results on the public portal as at August 17 show that the figures are 403,495.

This figure may be subject of discussions, disagreements and contestations. But there is a message that this column alluded to three weeks ago. That relates to the state of voter education in the country.

There are several reasons why a ballot may be rejected during an election. The overall issue though is that these are ballots which although cast by voters did not count in favour of those they voted for. They, for one reason or the other, were declared invalid. There are many reasons for a ballot to be declared invalid. One key one is errors made by the voter.

Every voter was given six ballot papers during election day. They were expected to mark each ballot in favour of their preferred candidate.

Sounds very straight forward. Over 400, 000 people could not get this right. This demonstrates that previous sentiments that Kenyans know how to vote and hence don’t need voter education may not be too accurate after all.

The Election Regulations also clarified that even if one cast their votes correctly but placed it in the wrong ballot box, that ballot would still not count as a valid vote.

These are categorised as stray ballots. When I went to cast my ballots, it was clear that it was possible to confuse some colours. There is a common joke that men are not good with colours. As a man, I may therefore not be an expert on colours.

The choice of colours require to be such that the distinction is clear to ordinary men whose colour distinction is rudimentary.

Looking at the colour differences, the IEBC could have done a much better job with the colours. Secondly, more consistent publicity on the colours way in advance of the elections would have been necessary.

Moving forward, we need to ensure that we have more efforts geared towards voter education. This is a responsibility for both the IEBC and stakeholders.

There is a world of difference between voter education and political mobilization by political parties and candidates.

Unfortunately, in the just ended election, politicians overshadowed voter educators. This is a button we must reset. Voter educators must not wait until the last minute to start providing information on the voting process as happened this time around.

Unless we do so, we will always leave all objective information to be assessed based on partisan political communication. This is not always good for democracy.

Our target as a country must be to ensure that the rejected votes does not continue being the third candidate in a Presidential contest which has several contestants. It requires concerted efforts so as to reduce the number of people whose votes do not count as a result of mistakes in the voting process.

The reason for reducing the number of rejected votes arises from our constitution. The Constitution demonstrates that every vote counts and influences the outcome of an election. It, for example, requires that to be President, one needs to win with just one extra vote above 50 per cent in addition to the other provisions on county votes.

Thus the 400,000 plus rejected votes are a huge indictment on our democracy. We owe it to the continued democratisation process to reduce votes that do not end up counting.

The Directorate of Voter Education at the IEBC has its work cut out for it. They need to assess the reasons for rejection of the votes, design more robust strategies for ensuring that come 2022, the levels of voter education is greater than it was in this election.

It is only from increased awareness that citizens decisions are more informed. A clear evidence of this will be the reduction in the number of rejected votes.

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