Every Kenyan with a National ID card should be allowed to vote

It may not be necessary to make voting mandatory like a number of democracies do. [iStockphoto]

Registration of voters and maintenance of voters registers are key functions of the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) under article 88(4) of the Constitution and the legislation. The right to vote and to be elected is also linked to the requirement that one must register as a voter.

But, does it have to be necessary for IEBC to register voters in order for them to vote? In our experience, registration of voters, cleaning and maintenance of voters registers are very costly exercises, taking a big chunk of IEBC’s budget. This is even before getting into the actual business of elections.

The last mass registration campaign by IEBC taught us very valuable lessons. Key among this, was although voting is voluntary in Kenya, the levels of voter apathy are very high and do not justify the investment of public resources, even though democracy is expensive.

The amount of money spent on a few additional names into the voter’s roll could have been invested elsewhere in the delivery of services to wananchi. There is value in the proposition that we should rethink more drastically our system of getting people out to vote.

It may not be necessary to make voting mandatory like a number of democracies do. Some people believe that making voting compulsory increases voter turnout thereby addressing voter apathy.

Depending on sanctions imposed for failure to vote and the democratic culture of a country, this may not necessarily be a solution. Australia, imposes modest fines to people who fail to vote unless they had compelling reasons. But, compelling people to vote doesn’t necessarily mean they cast valid ballots.

If people do not believe in the culture of democracy that frowns upon those who do not participate, they can cast spoilt ballots to protest being compelled to vote. In some countries, compelling people to vote is deemed unconstitutional.

Though the over 20 countries that practice compulsory voting share one thing in common, their voter turn-out is so much higher than those that do not practice it. Nevertheless, Kenyans do not deal very well with compulsion even when it is for their own good and the good of the society at large!

Therefore, voting can remain voluntary but we could have a system that ensures that every citizen with a National Identity Card (ID) is eligible to vote. This means the Registrar of Persons should ensure that IEBC has access to their register.

In fact, the idea of the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) is not bad, so long as one is identified with one number everywhere such as the National ID number.

 Also, political parties and candidates should work a lot harder at preparing political agendas and manifestos that are genuine and attractive to voters and should engage in serious voter and civic education and not in propaganda and false promises.

This value proposition that every Kenyan with a National ID Card should vote will require a change in the law to implement. There is no good reason why IEBC should be registering voters when they are already registered with ID Cards, the only document that IEBC requires as proof to vote anyway. The disqualifications that make voters ineligible to vote even when they have ID Cards should also be rethought through.

Being bankrupt or having mental health challenges should no longer be serious grounds for denying a voter the right to vote; if a person is lucid enough to walk to a polling station and queue for hours to vote, they should be considered sane enough to vote.