SECTIONS

Why are parties bickering now on voters' register?

IEBC clerk Kevin Omondi registers voters at IEBC's GPO centre, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

It is farcical that, less than a month to the election, the leading presidential candidates are still jousting with the electoral commission over the question of manual versus electronic voter register.

Let us be clear. The list of registered voters is not a State secret. It should be public information in the possession of anyone interested – especially political parties.

At the end of the election, the IEBC should publish the register to make public who voted and who did not for future action and use.

This is the norm in many democracies, a fact that allows parties and activists to target non-voters in the hope of persuading them to participate in subsequent elections.

If the register is public, parties with poll agents should be able to publish the 700 (or fewer) names of voters per polling station and have them on hand as they observe the voting process across the country.

They should also then verify and confirm who voted and who did not after the fact.

That parties are complaining reveals two structural problems with our electoral administration infrastructure. First, the IEBC is unnecessarily opaque. I repeat, the register should be public information.

The IEBC should publish the list of voters (not just at polling stations), and after the election, also publish the participation list.

Doing so does not violate any law. To the contrary, it strengthens our democracy. The secrecy of the ballot only protects the choice in the booth, not whether one participated.

Second, our political parties and leading candidates are structurally unserious. Their constant whining suggests they lack the infrastructure to fully observe the electoral process next month. They therefore want to rely on the IEBC to verify itself.

This creates perverse incentives for the IEBC and anyone who might be interested in subverting the election from within.

It is hard to overstate the extent to which electoral democracy rises or falls on the back of organisationally competent parties. Kenyans deserve parties that are up to the task.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University