By Makodingo Washington
I have been thinking about the Voter Register. In particular, I have been thinking about one of the “Negotiated’ sections in the bipartisan Election Laws (Amendment) Act, thus:
38A. For the efficient and effective conduct of elections, the Commission shall determine the number of voters per polling station but such number shall NOT EXCEED FIVE HUNDRED VOTERS. (emphasis mine). This amendment was supposed to cure one of the leading causes of lower voter turnout in elections – long and winding queues outside polling stations.
However, this amendment brings an even bigger problem especially in highly populated areas (mostly major towns) – a bigger problem than this nonsensical debate about ‘electronic vs manual backup’.
You see, there are polling stations that are really big. In 2013, Umoja I Primary School had 29,244 voters (yes, twenty nine thousand!). An entire ward had one polling station! Of course, IEBC dealt with this administratively and created several polling streams in the school – but they were all part of a single polling station.
With the amendment, Umoja I Primary School polling station has to be split into at least 58 separate Polling Stations – the real number is likely to be close to 70 given that the country has about an additional 25% eligible voters in 2017. This is where the problem lies.
For a start, Umoja I Primary school has no space to accommodate 70+ clearly distinct polling stations. If it did, the chaos that would ensue would cause so much disenfranchisement that there may actually be violence just because of this. Remember, all MCA aspirants and their surrogates will also be trying to outdo themselves to get votes in the same place. And it is not just in Umoja I. Nairobi alone has 32 polling stations with over 10,000 registered voters!
Even the logistics is chaotic. Every polling station has at least 9 officials: Presiding Officer and his/her Deputy; Voter Verification Clerk and Six Clerks for the various positions. Umoja I Polling Station (now split into 70 polling stations) would need 630 Polling officials! 630 people in a school just helping you vote!
The best way to sort this out would of course be to find alternative locations to put polling stations. This is well and good until you realize that this would bring an even bigger confusion! In 2013 you were voting in Umoja I; now you are probably voting at the Chief’s camp – all through no action of your own. Who wants to bet that a majority of people would end up in the wrong polling station? And how many of these people do you think will care to find their correct polling station?
The best case scenario would be for IEBC to have someone at the gate guiding people so you don’t queue for hours in the wrong polling station. Worst case scenario is you queue for hours only to realize you are not just on the wrong queue but also the wrong location altogether!
And all this is assuming that IEBC splits the polling station registers correctly to begin with! OK, you need to understand what a register looks like to appreciate the gravity of this. Your name is uniquely identified in the register. Your polling station, Ward, Constituency and County are uniquely identified by codes.
For example, Umoja I Polling Station is code 001 in Embakasi West Constituency. If you split it into 70 polling stations, each of them would have to be allocated a code in the Voter Register for identification purposes. Technically, the Voter Register would have to be edited – probably using some kind of a formula or algorithm (but most likely manually to create new names like Umoja I Primary School No. 67). The possibility of errors here is enormous! Plus do we really want IEBC editing the Voter Register in this manner? Who wants to bet that there would be thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of voters that would be missing or misplaced after such an exercise? Worse still, legally speaking if you registered in Umoja I Primary School Polling Station in December 2012, you cannot be moved to Umoja I Primary School No. 67 Polling Station without your consent. Those are two different polling stations!
The simpler, much more convenient thing to do would be a fresh voter registration exercise. And do not tell me we don’t have time. We registered 15.3 million people in a month in 2012, barely 3 months to the 2013 General Elections. There is no reason why we cannot do the same especially given the real potential for disenfranchisement the new law may cause. And of course it would be much easier to remove DEAD voters from the register this way (cleaning the register is not easy given that not all deaths in Kenya are properly documented and death certificates issued).
Why again are we doing an audit of the Voter Register? Why can’t we just register afresh? We have a whole SEVEN months to the next elections!
NOTE: The “Jubilee” amendment seeks to increase this number to 700 per polling station. Still, this will not change the picture much.
Back to the sheer number of polling stations, Nairobi County alone will have at least 4000 polling Stations. If we were to give each its own location, where would we find these locations? Maybe Bars, Churches, Mosques, Video Halls…..