IEBC commences mapping of diaspora vote

Former IEBC Vice-Chairperson Lilian Mahiri-Zaja, Commissioner Thomas Letangule, Wavinya Ndeti and Director of Diaspora and Consular Affairs Washington Oloo during the launch of the online portal for mapping of Kenyan citizens residing outside the country and eligible to vote. [File, Standard]

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission-IEBC, has started the mapping of the diaspora vote ahead of next year’s general election.

Commissioner Justus Nyang’aya said the exercise has commenced in North America where a time is currently working to establish where the voters are located before registration.

The commissioner said the exercises will be conducted in various parts of the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East, as a first step to creating polling centres where Kenyan citizens living overseas can vote in the 2022 presidential elections.

The poll agency had earlier announced to embark on mass voter registration in the diaspora this December.

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati said they would add six more countries to the five which had met the threshold to participate in the election.

"The commission has added the United Arab Emirates, United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Qatar and South Sudan to the list of the countries that will participate in next year's polls," said Mr Chebukati.

The IEBC chairman noted that the countries had met the 3,000 voters requirement to be enlisted as a polling centre.

This will now bring to 11 the number of countries which will participate in the elections.

In 2017, Kenyans in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa participated in the presidential election.

President Uhuru Kenyatta garnered 1,504 votes ahead of National Super Alliance (NASA) candidate Raila Odinga who garnered 1,321 votes before the election was nullified by the Supreme Court.

Kenyans in the diaspora are only allowed to vote only for the president.

commissioner Nyang’aya while addressing a Zoom conference in Washington DC said the commission has come up with a clear road map to facilitate voting in those countries.

Nyang’aya said the commission will simultaneously register diaspora voters in select countries across the globe in January, at its existing diplomatic facilities with the exercise being done at the Kenyan Embassy in Washington and two consulates in Los Angeles and New York.

The Commissioner said his team is currently assessing the situation on the ground, consulting with Kenyan stakeholders in the country on the diaspora vote issue before rolling the ball.

“We are appealing to Kenyans overseas to petition their National Assembly representatives to review the law to make it easy for IEBC to implement the constitutional obligation that guarantees Kenyans in the Diaspora to vote,” said Nyang’aya.

He said currently the law strictly controls how the IEBC conducts elections including implementing the diaspora right to vote and that the agency has very little leeway on this issue unless Parliament amends the relevant laws to make it easier for the diaspora to vote.

Responding to Commissioner Nyang’aya’s announcement, Bowling Green State University Lecturer Prof Kefa Otiso said a majority of Kenyans risk being disenfranchised if the voting exercise was only confined at the embassies and consulates with many living far away from them.

Otiso said based on available data, 153,414 Kenyans live in the USA and the commission should ensure their right to vote was guaranteed.

“Although the IEBC is rightfully concerned about minimizing its cost-per-voter, it should equally be concerned about reducing the inconvenience and exorbitant costs that voters in foreign countries will incur,” said Otiso.

“Unlike in smaller European countries like Britain, Germany and France that can easily be served by one polling centre, the reality in the United States of America and Canada is different, that is why we need more polling centres other than the embassies,” he added.

His sentiments were echoed by David Ochwang’i who accused IEBC of abdicating its responsibilities to parliament despite express constitutional guidelines that guarantee Kenyans in the Diaspora the right to vote.

Ochwang’i said the confinement to vote for the President and not on the other contestable seats amounted to tokenism contrary to the constitutional guarantees for the right to vote to all Kenyans.

Kenya's Ambassador to the USA, Lazarus Amayo asked the IEBC to expand the voting centres from the Kenyan missions to cover areas where many Kenyan citizens live.

Amayo asked the commission to devise a more convenient and modern electronic voting system to capture a wider number of voters in the diaspora than depending largely on the physical voting centres.

But IEBC has previously ruled out electronic voting, saying the Kenyan law does not provide for the same.

This will force a majority of Kenyans in the diaspora to travel long distances to vote since the polling stations are located in major cities.