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We must avoid partisan voter registration based on profiling

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Nationalist elder Muthoni Likimani would have been proud listening to those Turkana youth I met last week. They are fired up and ready to register as voters for the 2022 General Election. Wednesday’s IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati’s announcement that mass voter registration begins on October 4 will be music to their ears and other youth like them across the country. With the operations of the IEBC still chronically and deliberately underfunded, we must discuss how this exercise could still deepen our democracy.

Eleven years ago, Kenyans declared all sovereign power belongs to the people. Further, this power is be exercised in a multi-party democratic state founded on the values of human rights, national unity, non-discrimination and inclusion. This covenant and the Elections Act locate voters and voting at the centre of our national aspirations. The Act requires the IEBC to keep and publicly make available a comprehensive voter register, continuously register voters upon request and ensure that any citizen older than 18 years and has a national identity card or passport can vote.

Deliberate underfunding and under-prioritisation by the Executive as well as consistent interference by politicians has undermined IEBC’s capacity to hold this aspiration for 47 million Kenyans. Recently, the Government made it clear by writing to development partners that available external funding to both the commission and NGOs will not be welcome. This funding ban and the reluctance of the National Assembly to cap or disclose campaign financing contributions leaves the field open for “wash wash” monies and not for traditional regulated sources.

Ten months before the next elections, the Commission is still short of Sh14 billion of the Sh40.9 billion they need. This gap directly threatens seven million potential voters who are eligible and obligated to vote by our Constitution. The fiscal deficit will also impact on the quality of voting next year. The lack of continuous voter education programme by the commission and non-state actors leaves the voter vulnerable to vote bribery, intimidation, violence and false promises. Unless these trends are reversed or interrupted, we are all in a national matatu predictably hurtling to a road smash across many of the 47+1 assemblies and governments.

The nation needs society-wide campaigns to focus seven million minds on registering to vote. Many of them will be young, first time voters, hopeless and marginalised. We can target markets, campuses as well as places of learning and worship. We can have voters sharing the power of their votes. What if all those veterans who were stopped from voting by colonialism and patriarchy could tell us their stories?

We must avoid partisan registration based on ethnic, geographical and party profiling. We must not demoralise each other with fatalistic and speculative predictions of a low voter turnout. We must delink the right to vote with our party, policy issues or candidate preferences. We also must protect the privacy of voter data.

We know that the Executive can find the money when it needs to. We all saw the tremendous public resources that were marshalled for Huduma Namba registration or the Building Bridges Initiative signatures. Without a comprehensive national voter registration and education drive, the next General Election will not produce a clear mandate for county and national administrations assemblies. We must find and apply the resources across the state and society to avoid this now.

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