Ballots are so yesterday, it's time Kenyans voted digitally

Police officers guard ballot boxes before counting at Nita tallying centre in Mombasa. 10th August 2022. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

Voting is one of the few absolute rights we own. The other is our names, despite the love for exotic names imported from the West - rarely East despite rising Chinese influence.

We thank millions of Kenyans who braced the cold morning to vote. It does not matter if their favourite candidate won or lost.

The winner’s first task is to make the loser comfortable, and feel part of this no longer young nation.

Let’s digress from politics to the reforms needed in our voting system. I hope they will be implemented by 2027 or earlier.

One is early voting. Why not give us a week to vote? We could even open a portal where one can indicate the time to vote; we do that on golf courses, and embassies when seeking visas.

That will ensure that voting is as relaxing as shopping in the supermarket, with no hustles.

Two, in the long run, there is no good reason why we can’t vote online. Kenya has led in the digital revolution. We pay for goods and services through M-Pesa; even for land and dowry.

What’s so hard about voting electronically? Technology exists, only trust is missing. Online voting will bring more youth, the digital natives, onboard. With such reforms in the logistics of voting, we don’t even need a voting holiday.

Three, why do we vote for all six representatives at the same time? Why did the framers of the 2010 constitution copy the US constitution selectively?

If we made voting easy and even fun, it would be easy to have mid-term elections, our reps take five years but half are elected every 2.5 years. That means only half of them are new at any given time. The president will be voted on every five years.

The mid-term elections will keep voters awake and watchful.

To start this system, we can use a lottery to decide who among the next crop of reps will serve 2.5 years. Those who terminate their political life early can be paid a good gratuity.

Such staggered voting will reduce pressure on IEBC and disperse political tension. We shall have a chance to warn wayward parties halfway that they need to shape up.

Spend millions

Four is to do away with nominations. Why should someone spend millions campaigning then just pick someone to enjoy all the perks?

If nomination must remain, then we should all apply to be nominated then an independent entity does the selection, or better use a lottery to get the nominees.

Six, let’s recall any rep who fails to perform. We can demand, say, that 25 per cent of the voters in his jurisdiction sign a petition and trigger a by-election. Waiting for five years to vote out a non-performing leader is unfair.

Seven, we should do away with women representatives. They are like watermelons. Are they senators because they are voted by the county or are they MPs because they sit in the National Assembly?

Eight, we must cap campaign financing; the way things are now, poor men will never be leaders. In a poor country, it’s foolhardy to assume that money does not influence voting.

I have seen lots of men and women waiting for politicians; not to listen to their wise counsel but to get money and other gifts. The day voters will say 'no thanks', this nation will enter its golden age.

Eight, voters must be vigilant to ensure that their representatives do their work. One way to do that is to make voting compulsory as in Australia. Too many Kenyans complain over leaders chosen when they never voted.

Nine, voter registration should be easy. We should just go online, upload our documents and become voters.

ICT is very advanced in Kenya with Huduma Centres. With birth registration so high, we should even be sending alerts telling would-be voters they have come of age.

Economic growth

Ten, we must stop seeing voting as a matter of life and death. After voting the sun still rises from the East and the growing season rarely reduces.

We still must earn our daily bread. Many are seeing elections as an interruption to their lives.

Economic data shows that elections interrupt economic growth. Luckily that is reducing since we got a new constitution.

Digression: why the low voter turnout? The fact that few new voters registered during the IEBC drive was a good predictor of voter apathy today.

And there was no big issue to excite and energise us, except economic suffering. Maybe because of exhaustion from Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and having the same people seeking our votes, this year’s campaign was muted.

One hopes the main reason is political maturity, our nation is joining the league of mature democracies. Let’s now get economic dividends from that maturity.