Some 14 counties could influence President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successor as they account for more than half the potential voters in 2022.
These are counties that will have an average of one million eligible voters each, with the register expected to have 29.6 million voters in the next General Election if all those aged above 18 are listed.
Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kakamega, Meru, Machakos and Bungoma counties lead with the highest number of eligible voters, in that order.
The other counties rounding off the top 14 are Mombasa, Kisii, Kilifi, Uasin Gishu, Kajiado, Murang’a and Kisumu.
As at December 2018, there were 25.4 million Kenyans aged 18 and above. This number is expected to surge by an additional four million by 2022, if you factor in those who reported they were aged 16 during the August 2019 census. Currently, there are 19.6 million registered voters.
Counties in the Mount Kenya region will still have the lion’s share of eligible voters in the next polls, making them one of the most sought-after constituents in the lead up to the 2022 elections.
However, given the right stimuli, counties in Western may be the new titans in a political environment that has been dominated by voters from the former Central, Rift Valley and Nyanza provinces.
An analysis of the recently released census data shows that by 2022, the country might have between three million and four million new voters, depending on how politicians running for different seats will convince the new adults to register and vote.
The battleground will be in Nairobi, which will still have the largest number of people aged 18 and above at three million, up from 2.8 million.
The next largest vote-rich county will be Kiambu with 1.6 million people eligible for voting, an increase of 165,754 from the 2018 tally.
Nakuru County will have the third-largest number of potential voters at 1.3 million, followed by Kakamega with 1.1 million. The fifth-largest will be Meru with one million eligible voters.
Some counties, however, will add more to their tally of voting-age population than others, with Kakamega having 197,127 new potential voters, ahead of Kiambu and Nakuru, which see an additional 134,159 and 189,082, respectively.
Bungoma will also have 177,000 new people eligible for voting, in what is likely to make Western Kenya the new political battlefield. This pushes its voters’ tally to 931,091.
Experts note that without the historical voter apathy that has been characteristic of some regions, there could be major re-alignments even as Kisii and Kenyan Somali numbers surge, according to Karuti Kanyingi, a lecturer in political science at the University of Nairobi.
Dr Kanyingi said there are communities who register in high numbers, while others, like the Luhya and Kisii, take voter registration for granted.
“The only communities that have consistently taken the issue of registration seriously are the Kikuyu and Kalenjin,” said Kanyingi.
While Western region might see a surge in the number of eligible voters, an analysis by The Standard shows that the region has not converted these numbers into votes.
In Bungoma, only 74 per cent of eligible voters are registered; in Kakamega it is 79 per cent, in Busia 84 per cent, in Vihiga 91 per cent. Few registered voters, however, turn up on election day.
In contrast, nearly everyone aged 18 and above by the end of 2018 was a registered voter in Nyeri (at 94 per cent), Nyandarua (93 per cent), Murang’a (91 per cent) and Kirinyaga (89 per cent).
The main reason for low voter registration drive, explained Kanyingi, is the fact that historically, voting has been associated with the presidency. So, if a community does not have a presidential candidate, fewer people register and even fewer turn up to vote.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Amukowa Anangwe has attributed the voter apathy to voters in a given area not anticipating any change in the elections, adding that it is a global phenomenon.
The race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta has already started to heat up, with Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga among those seen as being front runners.
Others, such as Musalia Mudavadi, Ali Hassan Joho, Kalonzo Musyoka, Alfred Mutua and Moses Wetang’ula, have also declared their intention to vie for the top seat.
Counties with the least number of new eligible voters include Lamu with 87,955, Samburu with 113,533, Taita Taveta with 224,779 and Marsabit with 243,954.
“Fortunately, getting an ID card, registering to vote and voting are some of the exciting coming-of-age rituals that many of these age cohort (young adults) look forward to,” said Bob Mukangi, a constitutional lawyer.
“All the same, deliberate efforts must be employed. The strategic use of targeted activities with relevant messaging, primarily through those who have the attention of the cohort, is useful. These include relevant social media influencers and celebrities. The political environment, rhetoric and players (candidates) must also inspire and excite.”