Mass Biometric Voter registration – Lessons from Kenya (Part Two)
The Kenyan elections are penciled for 8 August, 2017, a date that is provided for in the country’s electoral legislative framework. Unlike in previous years, only the President could set the date of the General Election and decide when to dissolve Parliament. Before the current Constitution, this power was one of the political tools at the disposal of the incumbent President. Now the date set in the supreme law of Kenya, which stipulates that elections must be done on the first Tuesday of August during the fifth year of the reigning regime. Though Section 144(3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that, the dates for a general election must be fixed by the President after consultation with ZEC, the Kenyan Supreme Law has gone a step further to provide for the specific day / date. On the IEBC website, there is even a countdown of hours, minutes and seconds left, before the 8 August elections.
By Ellen Dingani
Of interest again to note was the provision of clear timelines on all electoral processes and these are clearly spelt out in the legal framework and administrative regulations, something that Zimbabwe can take a leaf from.
Use of technology in elections
In Kenya the IEBC has three electronic systems which they use in the management of elections. These are the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR), Electronic Voter Identification (EVID) and the Result Transmission and Presentation System (RTS). The first two use biometric technology. The BVR uses BVR kits (camera, laptop, finger print scanner) which captures fingerprints, facial biometrics together with other information such as name, surname, sex, age, ward, county amongst others. These are then integrated in the second machine which is the Electronic Voter Identification Devices (EVID) which is used on polling day to identify voters. In our interactions with some CSOs in Kenya, they indicated that if the EVIDs work perfectly, all voters will have to physically present their biometric identification, there will not be the allegations dead voters and underage children which were rampant in Kenya’s previous election. The third machine is the results transmission machine which was not very effective in the 2013 elections.
The biggest challenge has been how to ensure a sustainable, appropriate, cost effective and transparent use of technology, particularly in African countries. In Kenya the Commission is now looking at the possibility of integrating the three electronic systems into one machine instead of having three different machines which all require special storage space and software upgrading at some point. Countries like Zimbabwe intending to incorporate technology in elections should make sure that they do not purchase outdated and expensive as well as difficult to maintain equipment. The market has moved on quite tremendously and there is much more suitable and much cheaper equipment available. Zimbabwe should in future take a cue from these current debates globally about using integrated approaches to ensure sustainability and cost effective use of ICTs in elections.
Reports from CSOs indicated that in the previous elections, Kenya’s voters’ roll was one of the most contentious issues. In 2013, there was an outcry over the multiple voters’ rolls that the Commission used for the elections. This and other problems mentioned earlier forced Kenya to overhaul its voter registration process. For the just ended MVR processes which concluded on 14 February local observer groups in Kenya had reported cases of double registration in a number of centers that were visited. Deliberate double registration is an offence in Kenya. The IEBC, a week before the close of the MVR, published a report which indicated that there were 78,752 cases of double registration, 21,149 of them were cases where individuals shared the same ID numbers and names. Civic society organisations in Kenya are demanding a continuous appraisal of how the issue was being dealt in order to enhance public confidence in the process.
In addition the Commission established an online platform where voters could easily check for their names. This innovation made enhanced the ease with which voters could inspect the voters’ roll. This is one area that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), should seriously consider implementing given the high levels of mobile technology penetration in Zimbabwe.
Apathy in process
The Commission had targeted to register an additional 6 million voters from the 15 million registered voters as of 2016, but from the statistics provided by the Commission a few days before end of the exercise indicated that there was a sense of apathy that gripped the country just as in the last exercises done in 2016.
Of the targeted 6 million potential voters during the MVR, by the time our team left Kenya (a few days before the MVR exercises ended), the IECB had registered 2.1 million (35%) voters from 16 January 2017.
Some stakeholders who spoke to us indicated that there was a general feeling in the populace that the value of the vote was not translating into tangible benefits for the country and the citizenry. The socio, economic environment was also noted as one factor that has contributed to the voter apathy.
During the time the ZESN team was in Kenya, Lecturers at Kenya’s public universities and doctors had gone for more than seven weeks on an indefinite strike over poor remuneration, deepening a crisis in public services as the country heads towards elections.
Mass Voter Mobilization
Apart from being a right that a citizen should enjoy and exercise, registering as a voter makes citizens eligible to participate in the process of electing leaders of their choice. Parallel to the MVR, the IEBC was also conducting voter education in all the counties in a bid to mobilise as many voters as they could. Political parties also played a key role in mobilizing the people, especially the young people, to go and register. On the other hand the IEBC has also set up registration centres in Universities as deliberate efforts to target the youth. CSOs role in voter mobilization and voter education activities were hamstrung by lack of resources.
The learning mission received reports that some political actors were interfering with the MVR exercise. Politicians from the ruling party were allegedly threatening to sack traditional chiefs in opposition strongholds who assist in mobilizing potential voters, while on the other hand threatening voters in the ruling party’s strongholds with unspecified action if they did not register. One of the Lessons that Zimbabwe can learn from these reports is the need to strictly enforce the code of conduct for political actors to ensure that their contribution to electoral process is within the parameters set by the legislative framework. This will help ensure that the playing field remains level.
Just like in many African countries, some of the Kenyans have little confidence in both the elections and the IEBC. The electoral processes are hugely politicized and the recently appointed need to deal with a plethora of issues including building trust and confidence of the electorate and stakeholders to enhance the credibility and legitimacy of elections. Absence of trust and confidence can directly affect key electoral processes such as voter registration and turn-out on polling day.
To read the first part, click here
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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.