A ballot paper never walked itself onto a voter’s lap. The history of nations is rife with brutal battles fought to win a people’s right to vote. For the Kenyan diaspora, this right would not have been etched in law had a new constitution not been birthed through struggle and bloodshed, had a few diaspora Kenyans not subsequently lobbied hard to have their right to vote included in that constitution.
Yet we still have “a ways to go,” one that must be travelled within a very short time. Enabling an unknown number of diaspora voters to cast their vote in 2013 has become a major migraine for the IEBC. How to administer to some 3 million citizens scattered across the globe, figuring how many are eligible voters and where they are located, is all the current IEBC-Diaspora snafu.
It must be stated though that it is a diaspora responsibility to respond to efforts made to count and account for their numbers. Earlier in the year, an effort to map out diaspora voters recorded dismal participation from Kenyans abroad. All that was required was signing up. We do not seem to fully grasp the immense power of our vote in shaping the destiny of Kenya. It is potent, it is feared, it is absolutely necessary.
The Kenya Diaspora Alliance (KDA), a growing federation of Kenya diaspora organizations that includes the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA) that has over the years represented diaspora interests, has taken some major steps to ensure that diaspora gets to vote in the largest numbers possible in 2013.
The first is a court petition that seeks the early and timely registration of voters, and the expansion of polling stations that will be accessible to the majority of voters. The court petition, led by Dr. Shem Ochuodho, one of KDA's leaders, includes a prayer for delimitation of boundaries for the diaspora that will allow for proper electoral representation and administration.
The second step is a diaspora voterdatabase. Through ongoing research, programming and testing, we have launched a secure online platform where Kenyans abroad can sign up as eligible voters. See https://www.kenyansabroadvote.com. This is an important step that will allow us to push for official online registration and voting for Kenyans abroad.
An SMS-based platform is also a consideration if we have programmers and researchers willing to dedicate time and brains to creating one. Presently, we are closer to completing anonline registration and voting platform that the IEBC can endorse. We have submitted recommendations for the amendment of the Elections Bill currently in parliament to allow for electronic modes of registration and voting.
There’s nothing to fear:
Online voter registration is convenient, safe and accessible to thousands of eligible voters living abroad. Several countries have successfully implemented or piloted online voting, including Canada, Estonia, France, Norway, Venezuela, among others. In the US, online registration is used in 11 states, with other states currently working to adopt legislation for its use.
A study on the Online Voter Registration systems in Arizona and Washington, the first two US states to institute its use, documents that it’s far more efficient, cost-effective and error-free than the older registration systems. There is nothing to fear about technology that adequately ensures the integrity of the vote.
Kenya can lead other African countries and their diasporas in democratic innovations using easily available technology. After all, we’re the world-celebrated gurus of mobile moneytransfer (M-pesa) and crowd-sourcing platforms (Ushahidi).
We urge all eligible Kenya diaspora voters to take their destiny in their hands, sign up and stand counted. We must hurry. This time, let us show up in numbers that cannot be ignored. We can! If you haven’t already done so, please sign up athttps://www.kenyansabroadvote.com/voterEligibility.php and pass on the link to your lists, forums and social networks.
Mkawasi Mcharo Hall
Member, Board of Trustees
Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA)
https://www.kenyansabroadvote.com/ is a Kenya Diaspora Alliance (KDA) initiative.