Kenya Elections: The Diaspora Factor

Published on 24th December 2012

A voter registers                             Photo courtesy
My scope is confined to the Diaspora and in the large scheme of things, the solution to the Diaspora voting stalemate could in fact turn out to be very simple and pragmatic. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel but follow established models which we know already work and perhaps tweak them slightly to fit our circumstances:

Step 1- voter registration

Contrary to the IEBC and the cabinet’s contention, this is the easiest part of this effort that the IEBC has complicated it needlessly. They claim they do not have enough time and funds to get this done but I say that is untrue. One, a government that admittedly rakes in Billions in tax in Diaspora remittances ought not whine about funding Diaspora voting, let’s fair and be reasonable folks- taxation without representation historically leads to revolutions- make no mistake about it. In the meantime, first things first, to register Kenyans in the Diaspora to vote this is what we, the key stakeholders, I propose the following to the IEBC/government:

a) We will facilitate and if necessary conduct our own voter registration and follow the IEBC voter registration guidelines. From what I have seen in the way they register voters in Kenya, this is a straight forward 5 to 10 minute clerical function per voter; the IEBC can easily hire and train Kenyans, particularly college students in America as clerks or even interns, provide them with the BVR tool kits, train them on to use them. The whole exercise cannot take more than a day or two.

b) We in the Diaspora will arrange for and announce several voter registration sites/camps and dates, at places where Kenyans congregate on weekends- primarily churches and on weekends respectively, and so this works perfectly.

c)  Kenyans will be required to provide proof that they are Kenyans, usually a photo ID such as a passport or a birth certificate and state ID or driver’s license.

d) Upon registration, i.e. recording all the biometric information on voters, a randomly machine generated voter registration ID number will be issued to the voter along with a voter card. These information will then be submitted to IEBC headquarters in Nairobi for validation. Confirmations will be sent to voters with further instructions about the actual voting, absentee balloting in this case.

Step 2 -lockbox voting

My proposal of “Lockbox voting” is a blended form of absentee balloting and lockboxes designed to ensure secure and safe transmission and recording of votes by way of lockboxes. This remarkably simple, practical, reliable, inexpensive, efficient and reliable structure will fulfill our long withheld and hard fought right to vote and participation in the democratic process. It will cost no more than the cost to print the ballots, a postage stamp, minimal administrative fees paid to independent third parties to receive and “lock” ballots until the day of counting. Companies in the US and Europe use lockboxes to securely and seamlessly transfer Billions of dollars every day between businesses and customers with virtually zero losses and it is a model that the IEBC can quickly adopt for the purposes of the upcoming elections. This an innovative way that I wish Chairman Hassan and the commission staff cared to consider or listen to during his tours in the Diaspora  just needs to be open-minded and forego its rigidity, which only appears bent on finding reasons and excuses for imaginary obstacles as opposed to finding solutions to get the job done.   The way it will work is very simple and straightforward:

a) The IEBC will agree to appoint companies in the Diaspora as Lockbox Administrators. The cost is very negligible- the administrators’ job is to pick absentee ballots sent to the lockboxes in the form of mail and simply lock them unopened.

b) The IEBC will then print pre-numbered ballots enough to cover all the Diaspora voter registrants in step 1 above. These ballots will then be mailed to voters who will then vote for their candidates of choice and mail them to the lockboxes. Alternatively, these ballots can be printed online by the voters and mailed in to the lockboxes, in my opinion this is a low risk step in the process since the ballots will be validated by IEBC clerks/returning officers and candidates’ agents. Ballots must be matched with the registered voter database established in step 1 above.

c)  The IEBC will appoint returning officers/election clerks, preferably from the list above who helped in the registration process above. These officers’ role is to facilitate vote counting on election day.

d) On election day, the lockbox administrator, IEBC returning elections officers and candidates’ agents will all gather at the lockbox facilities to count the votes and submit returns to IEBC election headquarters in Nairobi.

e) The rules of engagement will be the same as those of all election precincts across Kenya. All standard election rules, rights, privileges and exclusions will apply at the Lockbox locations on election day.

f) All votes received at Lockbox locations, let’s say 48 hour before Election Day, shall be counted on election day. Opened envelopes will be considered spoilt ballots and shall not be counted, erasures on ballots will also result on votes not counted. The point is all rules applicable on the ground in Kenya will also be in force in the Diaspora as well.

g) The counts shall be remitted electronically and results announced alongside the rest. Those that wish to physically be present and vote can still be accommodated at these locations and at the Embassies/consulates as originally contemplated by the commission. The intent is to expand voting capacity and to allow the greatest number Diaspora the opportunity to vote.

Finally, I believe that it is in everyone’s interest that we get this one right. IEBC must abandon its rigid superficial stand against Diaspora voting and let the will of the majority determine our future. Let common sense prevail and let the government be the enabler this time around rather the stumbling block its known for. IEBC should be willing to remove its proclivity of self-righteousness and do right by the Kenyan people, particularly the Diaspora. I expect IEBC Chairman Hassan, his staff, relevant government agencies as well the candidates themselves to reverse course and drop their intransigency about this matter, it is reckless not constructive.

By David Ochwangi
[email protected]

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