Voter education

Voter education: What you need to know.

Voter education is paramount in the fulfillment of the purpose of democracy. A look at the electoral body’s website under resources/election laws is not helpful for anyone who wants to know the laws about elections in the country. It only lists The Civil Procedure Act Cap 21, and the Supreme Court Act 2011, laws which are not near to the subject of the electoral body’s mandate. Election laws in Kenya include: Election Campaign Financing, 2013; Election Offences Act, 2016; Election Act, 2011; Election (Registration of Voters) Regulations 2012; Elections (Registration Of Voters) Regulations, 2012; Elections (Voter Education) Regulations, 2012; Elections (General) Regulations, 2012; Rules Of Procedure On Settlement Disputes; Elections (Parliamentary And County Elections) Petition Rules, 2013; Elections (Parliamentary And County Elections) Petition Rules, 2013; Elections (Parliamentary And County Elections) Petition Rules, 2013.

When read together, the laws mentioned above give the voter a little knowledge into what elections are all about. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 (the Constitution) under Article 88(4) (g) charges the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) with the duty to carry out voter education in the country. This function may be delegated to natural/legal persons or even to civil societies. The purpose of the Elections (Voter Education) Regulations, 2012 is to implement Article 88(4) (g) of the Constitution; to create an environment for objective and effective voter education for all Kenyans; to ensure efficient coordination of voter education for purposes of harmonisation of the content of the voter education material; and to promote optimum use of resources available for voter education in Kenya (see regulation 3)

Voter education, according to the Elections (Voter Education) Regulations, 2012 means “voter education” means all forms of information or communication whose purpose is to educate members of the public on their rights and responsibilities in the electoral process and generally on the electoral process. The United Nations Women’s Watch provides are more substantiated definition of voter education to describe the dissemination of information, materials and programs designed to inform voters about the specifics and mechanics of the voting process for a particular election. Voter education involves providing information on who is eligible to vote; where and how to register; how electors can check the voter lists to ensure they have been duly included; what type of elections are being held; where, when and how to vote; who the candidates are; and how to file complaints. Bottom-line, the purpose of voter education is to ensure that eligible voters are ready, willing and able to cast their vote.

As a voter, here is what you need to know:

  1. Your vote counts.

You have always heard this. You have read it somewhere else, when elections are the subject matter of the communication. And it is true, your vote counts. This is because in democracy (unlike America’s kind of democracy), the person who gunners the majority votes takes the day. It is a democratic principle that for one man is one vote. That means you cannot and should not vote twice in the same category election. So you see, your vote counts. If you do not vote for your preferred candidate, you will be making him one vote less, and he could lose the election. If you think your vote doesn’t count, ask Martin Cameron of the Liberal and Country League who was beaten by Des Corcoran of the Australian Labor Party beat, 3634 votes to 3635 (a difference of one vote) in the Seat of Millicent for the South Australian House of Assembly in 1968. – That was a long time ago! But it is possible, even in this age. So, go out on that day and vote for your preferred candidate.

  1. As a voter, you have rights and responsibilities.

It is your civic duty to cast your vote. In some jurisdictions, like Argentina, Belgium and North Korea, it is a punishable offence for a citizen not to cast their vote. The constitution of Kenya under Article 38 provided for the right to vote. It is not a civic duty. It states, “Every adult citizen has the right, without unreasonable restrictions to be registered as a voter; to vote by secret ballot in any election or referendum…”

The essence of the right to be registered as a voter and to participate in elections is because elections are a means by which a representative government is formed. A representative government is the pivot around which all power in Kenya revolves because Article 1 of the Constitution states that “All sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya and shall be exercised only in accordance with the Constitution”. The Constitution establishes the IEBC (article 88), provides for elections (generally under Chapter 7) and it is the people of Kenya who participate in elections.  Elections also create a basis for accountability from political leaders, at all levels.

It is not enough that it is your right to vote. You should know that it is your right to participate in a free and fair election. The Constitution acknowledges that the people of Kenya want systems that promote the people’s participation in the governance of the country through democratic, free and fair elections and the devolution and exercise of power and further ensures the full participation of the people in the management of public affairs. Free and fair elections are characterized by voting by secret ballot; they are free from violence, intimidation, improper influence or corruption; they are conducted by an independent body; they are transparent; and are administered in an impartial, neutral, efficient, accurate and accountable manner. (See Article 81 of the Constitution)

  1. Your vote is secret.

It is your right not to be intimidated or to be in fear of the political choices you make. That is why tour vote is secret, so that you are protected from any form of intimidation.

It is however incumbent upon the government to convey the message and even prove that citizens will not be in trouble because of their political choices. The way voting is done, counting of votes, and the way results are announced must ensure secrecy of the ballot. An individual vote must be secret, but a community preference may not be. There should not be any political consequences for a community whose preference is ascertainable, especially after the tallying of votes.

  1. Elections and democracy

A democracy is nothing without elections. Elections must be periodic, free and fair. Voters must be intimidated, and must have a platform to discuss choices of political leaders, political parties and government policies. Citizens must have inherent rights which empower them to demand for accountability from the government and to also put themselves forward as candidates for political office.

Democracy also demands that voters be given information and a platform to discuss their election choices at the ballot box. Citizens must be let to exercise their freedoms of movement and of association. As such, citizens have the right to be part of the campaign trail of their choice of candidate.

Let it not be forgotten that the legitimacy and credibility of a government is subject to the quality of the election process that put it in power. The standard of measuring the quality of the election is the perception of the public. Like justice, elections must be seen as being free and fair. The common man must say with full conviction that “the election was free and fair. And who is the common man? It is the tailor at the end of the street, it is the shopkeeper from whom people in the small town buy ugali, it is the school teacher at the village primary school, and it is the farmer who tends his garden the whole year.

BY SAMALI BITALA

This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 2, Issue 1 of February 3rd 2017

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