Number of spoilt votes a great pointer to necessity of civic education
On August 8 2017 Kenyans woke up early and headed to various polling stations to elect candidates of their choice.
Despite the long queues, many endured both the scorching sun and heavy rains in some of the parts of the county with one purpose to fulfil their constitutional right.
At the Raila Educational Centre, a polling station in Kibra Constituency, the illustration from Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), posted on the door to the polling centre demonstrated how to vote. For the voters here, this was the first time they were interacting with anything related to voter education.
“I urge you not to spoil your votes as I have seen this happening since morning,” commented Jane Anyango, a party agent who had watched helplessly as some member of the public refused to be assisted.
The conversation on the queue was followed by different explanations from members of the public as to why votes were being spoilt. One of the reasons that many agreed with was the low voter education for the 2017 polls compared to the past general elections.
“There has not been much voter education as compared to the previous years in the community and through media outlets compared to previous years yet we have many new voters,” noted Collins Mbale, a voter at the polling centre.
The 2017 General Election results are a confirmation to these discussions. According to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) website, a record of 403,503 votes were recorded as rejected vote and 5,193 as disputed in contrast to 2013 when there were only 108,975 spoilt votes.
Looking at these figures, it gives an impression that these would have made the third Presidential candidate as the gap between the first two and the third is so high. While the first two were in millions with Uhuru Kenyatta having over eight million votes and Raila Odinga having about 6.7 million, the third presidential candidate had less than 50,000 votes.
According to a curriculum released by the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development (KICD), voter education is a critical component in the democratization process of any nation. This is because it empowers voters to know the advantages and disadvantages of effective participation in elections hence reducing voter apathy.
The curriculum further explains that voter education alone is not enough and needs to be supplemented by on-going civic education efforts to enable democratic participation and culture that flows from it and is, in fact, the rationale for periodic elections.
Counsel Alexander Jaoko quoted in the media said: “A major reason why there were many spoilt votes is lack of assistance to voters by IEBC and party agents, majority of who were either illiterate or confused by the high number of elective positions.”
He noted: “Some people declined to be assisted and went on to place a tick on their preferred candidate while at the same time marking a cross on other candidates on the same ballot paper.”
Regina Opondo, chairperson Elections Observer Group (ELOG) steering committee and Executive Director of CRECO, a consortium of 23 civil society organisations in Kenya also attributed the high number of rejected votes to a combination of factors including lack of civic education which was hampered by the President’s decision to ban funding for civic education.
“We have observed that this could be one of the effects of lack of civic and voter education in days preceding the elections,” noted Opondo.
The Kenya Elections Information Centre (KEIC), an election strong room which is complementary to the traditional election observation revealed that even though IEBC started voter education aimed at reducing the number of spoilt votes in the 2017 General Election, they were not able to reach people adequately with the information.
To address this gap, at least 2,900 ward-based voter educators were hired to teach Kenyans how electronic identification of voters and results transmission would work on Election Day. This was not sufficient as more information was required to educate the public on the voting process.
As the country continues to speculate on the reasons for the number of spoilt votes, it is evident that there is need for conduct comprehensive ongoing civic education for citizens to participate not only in elections but be empowered with information that will enable them make informed decisions and fulfil their constitutional mandate.