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Mass Biometric Voter registration – Lessons From Kenya (Part One)

ELECTIONS today are unarguably the most preferred way to elect leaders the world over. Credible, free and fair elections give legitimacy to elected leaders and as such if leaders fail to represent the interests of those who voted them into power, it is incumbent on voters to reject them through elections. Over the years we have seen the introduction of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the administration of elections. The introduction of Biometric Voter Registration and Biometric Voter Identification on e-day being is a new trend to most in African countries. Electronic voting is not yet so popular in Africa with the exception of Namibia which was the first African country to try electronic voting.

By Ellen Dingani

Recently, ZESN observed the Mass Voter Registration process in Kenya, where Kenyans were registering using the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system which Zimbabwe is about to adopt for the 2018 Elections. The learning missions to Kenya was an eye opener especially given that Kenya was doing the BVR exercise for the second time before a major election having done BVR prior to their 2013 elections.

Although the 2013 voter registration exercise proceeded relatively smoothly, problems emerged on election-day and these included the failure of the majority of the verification kits on polling day and the mobile phone transmission of results also broke down owing to a server system failure. The Independent Election and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had set a voter registration target of 18. 2 million for the 2013 elections but managed to register only 14.3 million (79% of target). Out of the 14.3 million registered voters, 12.2 million (85.90%) took part in the 2013 General Elections and 2 million (14.09%) did not turn out to vote. Local CSOs said on Election Day, the Electronic Voter Identification Devices (EVID) which uses fingerprint biometric to identify a voter failed to work in 52% or the polling stations. This led to accusations of rigging and contributed to the losing candidate, Raila Odinga rejecting the election results. His case was however ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court.

So unlike the Kenyans who have incorporated ICTs and Biometrics in some of the three critical electoral processes, i.e. registration, verification of voters and transmission of results, Zimbabwe has decided to take a small step and start with the voter registration using biometrics, a process which will culminate in a new voters’ roll. If done properly, the new voter registration exercise will deal with a number of challenges that were noted in the previous elections in Zimbabwe such as the disenfranchisement of potential voters due to insufficient information on voter registration procedures and requirements, inadequate funding to the Commission and supporting stakeholders such as civic society, lack of adequate personnel and the slow processing of registration queues.

Clear baseline, targets and timelines critical

For planning purposes by all stakeholders, there is need for clear timelines and targets. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) conducted a baseline study which enabled the Commission to set clear targets in terms of estimated number of people that would be registered per each county. For the recent Mass Voter Registration exercise, which ran from 16 January 2017 to 14 February 2017,the IEBC’s goal was to register 22 million voters, up from 15.8 million who had been registered as of June 30, 2016, that is an additional of about 6 million voters. The population of Kenya is about 47 million people. In addition to using the census data to draw their baseline and target, the Commission also relied on data from the National Registration Bureau which shows that nine million Kenyan adults have identification cards but are yet to register by the beginning of the 16 January 2017 MVR exercise. This information is available on the IEBC’s website for easy access by all stakeholders and it is further broken down to county level.

Ellen Dingani works for the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and was recently in Kenya observing the Mass Voter Registration process. She can be reached on info@zesn.net or ellenk@zesn.net.

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