Voter registration is a constitutional prerequisite for every election process. It is the basis for the conduct of elections and choice by voters of their leaders.
The process of voter registration is continuous, allowing anybody who is qualified to vote for various leadership positions to do so at any time. However, this process does not normally translate to a high number of people joining the voters’ register. Consequently, every so often, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission conducts what it refers to as enhanced continuous voter registration (ECVR).
The ECVR is aimed at enhancing the numbers in the voter register in the run-up to an election. This year, the IEBC set the period to register new voters and allow those wishing to transfer to other stations from October 4 to November 2. Its target was to register around 4.5 million voters. By the end of the period the commission had managed to register only 1.4 million new voters. It missed its target.
In the wake of this the High Court at Eldoret issued an order directing that the process continue until the case is heard and a final determination made. The question of extension of the period had been raised well before the end of the registration period. The fact that the numbers fell way below the IEBC’s own targets demonstrates that more requires to be done to ensure that all eligible voters are on the voters’ roll by the time that the General Election is held in August next year.
However, the decision raises several observations. Like 2017, Kenyans are rushing to the courts to seek the protection of their electoral rights. Together with a colleague, we argued in an article that the judicialisation of our elections resulted in the courts and not IEBC being the final determinant of an electoral process. It is easy to blame the Judiciary for this state of affairs. However, it is just discharging the constitutional responsibility.
What is required is for stakeholders to realise that citizens will always rush to court to seek to ventilate their rights. We have a precedent from 2017, where every stage of the electoral process resulted in litigation and judicial determination. This a reality that the IEBC and others engaged in the organising for and conduct of elections must bear in mind.
It also calls for greater stakeholder engagements between the critical actors involved in election. A few weeks ago, a high-level government consultative meeting on the 2022 elections was convened and attended by key government agencies, including the Judiciary and the IEBC. These must be a permanent feature under the aegis of the National Council on the Administration of Justice so that the actors can update each other and thus enhance synergy in the discharge of their respective roles.
In addition, the question of the IEBC’s budget requires revisiting. Parliament approved less than what the institution asked for. One of the areas that suffered from the budget cuts was the second round of ECVR.
The outcome of the last process clearly demonstrates that a second round of enhanced registration drive will be necessary to help ensure that more people are registered in time for the 2022 elections. The parliamentary Budget Committee and Justice and Legal Affairs Committee must address this question urgently. The ruling by the High Court gives further impetus to providing additional resources to the IEBC for another registration drive.
As the drive is conceptualised, it is necessary that the IEBC rethinks its strategies. The number of Kenyans who tuned out to register is less than those who are eligible. In the past the main challenges have been lack of national ID cards. This time voter apathy should be the main point of concern and response. Young people are arguing that they do not see why they should vote, since their vote does not matter. We cannot ignore this voice. A few weeks ago, I heard this same debate with my son.
It is time that we listened to them. The IEBC and other stakeholder should think of strategies to sensitise this group on the importance of registering as a voter and voting.