Unregistered eligible voters got a reprieve after the High Court extended the Mass Voter Registration to Sunday.
Justice Enock Chacha ruled that although he is aware of the logistical and financial constraints facing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, it will be unfair to lock out hundreds of eligible voters who have not listed.
“Voter registration should be continuous process but taking into account the logistical and financial issues, I will order that IEBC should continue with the Mass Voter Registration until February 19 when it shall close at 6pm,” ruled Chacha.
The ruling means that the commission will spend additional Sh210 million for the three days.
Mass Voter Registration was initially scheduled to end on February 14, but the judge extended by two days following an application by activist Okiya Omtatah.
When the petition came for hearing, the IEBC through lawyer Eric Gumbo pleaded with the judge not to extend the registration further, arguing that the commission has limited budget and timelines in preparation for the August 8 General Election.
“The commission spends an average of Sh70 million in the mass voter registration to hire third parties and maintain the BVR kits. Any additional time will mean extra money which the commission is at constraints to afford,” said Gumbo.
According to the lawyer, voter registration would not stop after closure of the MVR exercise, and that IEBC would still be open at constituency offices to register new voters.
Gumbo submitted that the commission would not violate any right of the public by closing the exercise, adding that there is no law that mandates the IEBC to conduct mass voter registration and that the exercise was only an administrative process.
“MVR is a deliberate campaign process initiated by the IEBC to encourage people to register as voters. It is therefore a lie to claim that it is illegal for the commission to stop the exercise at its convenient time to allow for other processes,” said Gumbo.
Omtatah however insisted that the deadline should be extended to allow people in villages who cannot reach constituency headquarters to register as voters.
He argued that there was no evidence that the commission had requested more funding from parliament and their request denied, adding that the public expectation is that the BVR kits should be at each polling station until 60 days to elections.
“Members of the public have a right to fair administrative action. We cannot allow a process which is not reasonable. In any event, IEBC will not suffer any prejudice if they extend the registration but the public will suffer more for being locked out,” he said.
Justice Chacha ruled that voter registration is a constitutional right and that the commission has the power to extend the exercise based on needs and available resources.
He added that Omtatah’s petition had raised substantial issues on public rights which need to be interrogated deeply in the election process and which document should be used to register eligible voters.
According to the judge, his decision was not to interfere with the administrative functions of IEBC but just to ensure that no eligible voter is denied a chance to vote.