Messy voter register: Decades-old headache that just won’t go away

The deletion of the names of dead voters from the election register has remained a difficult task since independence.

As the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission races against time to clean the register after a recent audit by KPMG, it is worth noting that this shortcoming has in previous years reached a crisis level with accusations that the “dead” were “casting votes”.

“A listing of voters has always been provided by the electoral body or officials, with a very simple mechanism in place of crossing names of those who have voted and hardly did people try voting more than once,” says Gabriel Mukele, former vice-chairman of the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK).


Mr Mukele, who has actively participated in the elections since 1963, as a voter, observer, lawyer to poll petitioners and later in the senior capacity of vice-chairman of the country’s electoral body, partly attributes the mischief surrounding the voter register to the competitive nature of the presidential race.

READ: KPMG to use birth, death registers in voters roll audit

Since independence, the presidential race was non-competitive with incumbents, Jomo Kenyatta (1963-1978) and his successor, Daniel arap Moi, getting re-elected unopposed. Mr Moi only faced competition following the reintroduction of multi-party politics.

After these two, the presidential ballot has made the General Election a highly competitive affair.


This is largely responsible for the dirty tricks, including multiple-voting by individuals and ballot stuffing among other criminal manoeuvres, employed by presidential candidates and their agents to win the country’s top political seat.

During the 1992 polls, ECK conducted a national registration drive with the data of registrants being entered in the so-called “black books”.

Lists of voters were drawn from the same for use at the polling stations.

READ: KPMG report on dead voters wrong, says Kidero

In 1997, Mr Mukele explains that the ECK computerised the registers using optical mark recognition forms: “But we kept the black books as a back-up for reference, and this is the same register that served in the 2002 elections but updated with registration drives in 2000, 2001 and 2002.”


But there was confusion over the use of “black books” in 2007 following a ban on their use. However, shortly before the elections it was decided they could be used as back-up.

Disagreements over the use of voter registration documents were just part of a wider battle pitting allies of President Mwai Kibaki of PNU and his ally-turned-foe, ODM leader Raila Odinga.

READ: 1m dead voters riddle for IEBC

Then Justice minister Martha Karua rejected moves to change the composition of the ECK commissioners to execute the 2007 polls, in accordance with political party strengths as suggested by the Raila-led team.


Amid the battle, contracts of a number of commissioners, including Mr Mukele’s, were not renewed as President Kibaki went ahead to single-handedly replace the ECK officers. In the subsequent bloody and chaotic polls, South African Judge Johann Kriegler, who headed the Independent Review Commission on the 2007 elections, observed that part of the problem was the inconsistent use of “black books” allowing double registrants to vote.

In the 2013 election, the situation was even more confusing.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) replaced the “black book” with a “green book”.

This one was for people registered manually, whose biometrics data could not be captured.


The other was the main register of voters whose biometric data was captured.

Human rights’ lawyer Harun Ndubi argues that Kenyans went to the last elections without a gazetted voter register, as required by law.

According to the lawyer, the law does not allow the commission to have multiple registers.

“What the IEBC presented to Kenyans in the 2013 polls was not one clear register but rather a multiplicity of documents with scattered records. And this is one of the reasons that formed the basis of the case against IEBC before the Supreme Court,” says Mr Ndubi, who represented the civil society in the case against Mr Uhuru Kenyatta’s election as President.


Before the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010, Mr Ndubi observes that most irregularities went unchallenged.

He says the process is now open to many legal challenges, courtesy of laws governing the polls.

The most scandalous instance in Kenya’s electoral history was witnessed in 1988 in the form of kura ya mlololongo, or the queue voting system, under the one-party Kanu regime.

During the vote-counting, which was the final poll exercise at parliamentary and ward level, candidates were openly rigged in or out with some of those with the shortest queues being declared winners.


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