Let IEBC work with more partners to register voters

IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati when he appeared before the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) at Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel in Nairobi [David Njaaga, Standard]

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) targets to register six million voters between October 4th and November 2nd – a target of 1.5 million a week.

These are mainly youth aged between 18 and 25 who would be fist time voters. Many in this demographic are in upper secondary schools, colleges, universities or dropped out.

Few are employed or job seeking. Many will have ID cards but some especially those in secondary schools may not have because they are not required to have them. How can IEBC reach them without serious voter education awareness campaigns and partnerships and collaborations?

According to an IEBC press statement, only 202,518 voters were registered after the first 7 days against a target of 1.5 million!

The IEBC did not provide the budget used so far so that we can quantify how much they have used per voter; but we can assume it is a lot of money if we take into consideration all the resources they have deployed including the 290 “voter mobilisers” hired to “create enthusiasm and awareness of the exercise.”

IEBC has also deployed 7,720 BVR kits to constituencies, wards, Huduma centres and registration centres, targeting university and college students.

The dismal performance and incredibly low numbers are attributed to voter apathy, insecurity in some regions, lack of ID cards and the culture of last-minute rush. Voter apathy is more of a voting problem and less a registration one.

Serious collaborative voter awareness campaigns can easily address this. Violence results in voter suppression but according to the IEBC only four areas are affected yet registration is low everywhere.

Clearly, voter education and awareness campaigns before registration drives play a fundamental role in mobilising potential voters.

IEBC should plan a massive collaborative voter awareness campaign three months in advance of their month-long registration drives, targeting potential voters to apply for ID cards. IEBC can collaborate with the registrar of persons, chiefs, civil society, religious organisations, NGOs, academia and media.

It is not enough to urge political parties and politicians to persuade their supporters to register as voters. Some institutions of learning in the counties have permitted IEBC to register their students as voters but little buzz is noticeable and no posters or announcements can be seen anywhere.

Serious collaboration with these institutions would ensure all students are registered especially with management and the Dean of the students; the first day of registration should be a big event involving the head of IEBC in the counties and the heads of the academic division of the universities and colleges. Also, those IEBC officials should be mobile in all campuses and inform students how long they will be on location.

IEBC should also engage religious leaders to be actively engaged in mobilising their constituencies to register for voting; the IEBC should not be shy to camp at religious centres to register people as they come in and leave.

Registration officials should also work with offices of county commissioners and their teams to mobilise potential voters to apply for ID cards and register as voters.

Relying on politicians may not always work because they are not consistent and interested to mobilise registration of all voters especially in areas of competitors.

Collaboration with CSOs and NGOs would greatly invigorate the registration process and share the financial burden that IEBC has to shoulder. IEBC cannot succeed alone or only by collaborating with politicians.

In the past CSOs, NGOs, artists and media have collaborated with IEBC to register voters. Notable among these collaborations was the voter registration awareness campaign dabbed “Vijana Tugutuke, ni Time Yet Campaign” in 2007.

Lack of funds for voter education and awareness campaigns activities should not be an excuse as most collaborators and partners of IEBC require its facilitation and goodwill and need to be structured.

Political goodwill should not be a deficit and it’s a small price to pay to register six million voters.
-The writer is a democracy, governance and elections expert and works for South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU) in Kitui.

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