What electoral commission can do to tackle voter apathy

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. [File, Standard]

The Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) recently embarked on an ambitious voter registration exercise, aiming to register six million new voters.

This was as a response to the January registration campaign, which performed dismally. IEBC must reflect on why young people are not inspired to register to vote. I did a light-hearted unscientific experiment among young people on my Instagram, the findings were informative and disturbing too.

Many young first-time people of voting age do not know how to vote, and do not understand the process. In my own experience, I can vaguely remember the rush of emotion and rejuvenated political awareness at the beginning of the multi-party politics. I remember the excitement among my older family members or neighbours during each election period. There were conversations marked by informative political debates and banter.

These critical formative moments piqued my political interest and also made me realise how violent rhetoric kindles conflict speedily. I remained curious and eager to participate. But I was not exposed to the intricacies of the voting process. I didn’t know how my political awareness and participation could push policy change in Kenya.

As I delved into political awareness, I’m struck by the similarity of political campaigns. I understand that reinventing the wheel could be a costly and ultimately useless exercise, but voter apathy is a symptom of a larger disease in our country. While the full treatment of this problem is multifaceted, voter education could go a long way to encourage young people’s participation.

Granted, our leaders can be more creative with their campaign rallies, our media can be more critical and interrogate politicians’ promises – holding them to account to their track record and qualifications.

But IEBC has failed young potential voters by relying on dull, uncreative communication outputs. Fair and credible elections and many other State must be founded on information and public participation. Government institutions in the past  have had to play catch up to their constituents who demand swift effective online communication and accessible information on social media or other platforms.

IEBC must understand younger audiences and try to understand why they are not keen on the whole process. It can start by reaching young people through online and offline methods that can ignite interest and change behaviours around the voting process. The commission, however, seems trapped in ways of yesteryears of just dishing out jargon. They have failed to anticipate questions from young people and hence they have failed to pique their interest.

Attracting young people is not a fad. They hold the power to change this country. But they need to be armed with the right information. They need to understand the technicalities of the voting day, and how results will be relayed. Disinformation, especially during election periods, has been directly linked to cycles of violence and confusion.

-Writer is a social media intern