In less than ten weeks Kenyans are expected to elect leaders, and the Interim Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has launched the voter verification exercise to ensure that they have all their registered voters. The verification is in an effort to deliver free, fair and transparent elections and will ensure correction of any anomalies in the voters’ details, the inclusion of any persons who might be missing from the register and enhancing the credibility of the 2017 elections.
The public is expected to visit the nearest verification center within their constituency and verify if their details appear correctly in the register. The exercise began on the 11th of May and will run through to the 9th of June. For Kenyans recorded in the diaspora, the verification started on May 15 and ends on June 30.
It takes less than a minute, and an individual can verify their particulars in 3 simple steps. Step 1: You submit the identification document you used for registration as a voter. Step 2: The verification clerk retrieves your details. Step 3: You confirm if they are correct then verify your biometrics on the Kenya Integrated Elections Management Systems (KIEMS) tablet. And boom! You are good to go.
Things have however not been as easy and rosy as they sound, especially in the rural areas. First, most stations have witnessed low turnouts. So bad is the turn out that in some areas clerks have been forced to go door to door to have people verify their details. This can be partly blamed on the little publicity the exercise has received. Compared to the mass voter registration conducted earlier this year, verification of voters has been left orphaned at an early stage.
Even the goodwill and energy witnessed from politicians during such exercises has flickered out. Perhaps people are waiting for the last minute rush when politicians come out with goodies to lure people out of their hiding holes. It is also possible that people are away and will only travel back for the elections. Whatever the excuse is, the excitement that usually surrounds any activity being undertaken by IEBC is nil in this.
Could the recently completed party primaries have contributed to the current situation we are witnessing? The nominations were shambolic, to say the least. They left a bad impression on the level of democracy in the country. “Why should I vote in the general elections if even my party won’t respect my democratic right? Let whoever is handling the elections choose whoever they want to be my leader because my choice won’t be respected,” commented Simon, a resident of Ugunja sub-county.
If that is anything to go by, then Kenya should start looking for ways to avert the looming voter apathy.The worst part is many people seem to be too ignorant about what the exercise is about. They are confusing verification for the inspection of their details that they did during the mass voter registration exercise. They are very adamant that they have verified their particulars.
For some, the exercise is nothing but a scam to use their fingerprints in rigging ahead of the general elections. “Apana. Mimi siweki mkono yangu kwa hio machine mpaka August. Hio ni njia yenu ya kuiba kura (Am not putting my fingerprints on that machine until the August elections. You are just looking for a way to rig the elections)” one old mama told the verification clerks when asked to verify her biometrics.
In some instances, they only do the verification because they are excited about seeing their passport photos in the system. If anyone is having a difficult job at the moment, it is the voter mobilizers tasked with getting people out of their houses to the stations.The commission needs to improve on public sensitization if it hopes to achieve the purpose for which verification is intended.
Even if President Uhuru Kenyatta maintains that Kenyans are intelligent enough to make good decisions when it comes to electing their leaders, this country is in dire need of voter education. The public does not even understand the backstage operations of IEBC outside of the elections period. They don’t even understand the election circle itself. To them, the work if the commission starts and ends on the election day and anything in between is either plans to rig elections or plunder public funds.
The public trust in the Commission is nearly gone if it’s not already lost. Apart from delivering credible elections come August, only constant engagements with the citizens on their activities can help regain the lost trust. The public sessions should be conducted regularly and not just a one-off thing. The ball is in the Commission’s court.