Our electoral process is cumbersome, costly, disorganised needs reforms

A voter casts his vote during the 2022 General election voting at Uhuru Gardens primary school, Langata constituency, Nairobi on August , 2022 [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

Our electoral process is cumbersome, costly, mixed up and needs reforms

For the past four days, millions of eyeballs have been glued to local television screens and other gadgets to follow the hearings at the Supreme Court.

Three weeks ago, Kenyans were again that busy, watching the announcement of presidential election results which was being done from the so-called National Tallying Centre. Before that, the polling day was declared a national holiday, and two weeks later, there was a partial national holiday for certain regions where elections had been postponed.

Even though elections are very important for a democracy, and are almost a measure of how democratic a country is, the Kenyan society invests so much in them that the nation goes in to a lull in the period between voting and announcement of results, which takes almost a week. 

Some might argue that this is because our politics are competitive, but the truth is that our politicians, nay, Kenyans, are corrupt and cannot trust a process that is not strenuous, cumbersome, time-consuming, unnecessarily expensive and even disorganised.

For the 2022 General Election, the electoral agency was given Sh44 billion, which translates to Sh2,000 per voter for the 22 million registered voters. If elective seats are considered, it means Kenyans spent Sh23 million to elect each one of their representatives, broken down as 47 governors, 47 Woman Representatives, 47 senators, 290 Members of the National Assembly, 1450 county ward representatives and one president.

Based on what Kenyans saw at the National Tallying Centre and the Supreme Court, much more is wasted to get the president elected and that is just one of the reasons why Kenya's electoral process needs to be reformed so that it can be efficient and less costly.

We can blame it on our history, and say that this level of much-touted transparency and a semblance of accountability was previously absent, and we are enjoying the freedom of conducting elections in an open and free manner, but that does not mean we cannot make the process orderly and better.

First, the argument that democracy is expensive which is used to justify this wanton spending amid disorganisation does not hold water because our electoral process is not expensive, it is overpriced. Expensive has a ring of class and intellectual sophistication to it, qualities which our electoral process lacks.

As one of the world's poorest nations, — yes, ours is not a rich nation — we cannot spend that much money on electing 1,882 people who, in five years do not make any meaningful changes in our lives and if anything, leave us in a worse situation than when they got elected. The poor quality of our leadership aside, and voters must take responsibility for that, the process needs to be simpler, cost effective and near perfect that wasting time and money in courts over results is unthought of.

What is the point of having electoral agency staff, permanent and casuals, spend sleepless nights in cold and dusty polling stations waiting for election materials, and thereafter counting, tallying, verifying and even guarding ballot boxes in a country that prides itself in being the headquarters of Africa's Silicon Savannah?

Does it really make economic sense for a centralised body to haul its resources to oversee polling in a county ward with 1,539 registered voters and seven polling stations with some having as few as 15 voters (Guba in Banissa Constituency in Mandera) when there is devolved system of government?

Why can't the process be devolved too, so that counties can conduct elections for seats that impact them directly without involving the national government? Why don't we have elections for certain seats at different times, a system that is even good for governance since it reduces chances of representatives colluding to fleece the electorate or them getting captured by the Executive?

One reason why the agency staff lives in polling stations and then gets its figures mixed up is the number of elections that are to be held in one day. Without the postponement of polls for eight seats, the electoral agency was supposed to conduct 2172 elections in 46,000-odd polling stations on August 9. These figure would have been lower had the electoral process been decentralised or made simpler.

That is why we spend billions of shillings and several days to count, tally, verify, fight, shoot each other and transmit results through one of the most cumbersome and backward processes akin to sending smoke signals, then end up in courts at different levels arguing over the results.

Some people have argued that it is the politicians who need to reform, and that is just part of the mess that starts at the vetting and the nomination stages.