The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is currently touring in the US seeking input and updating Kenyans living here about the upcoming elections and diaspora voting.
Although diaspora voting is a much desirable right for those of us living outside Kenya, I have several concerns about implementing the diaspora voting provision for 2012.
First, as in voting back home, voter fraud is first and foremost our No. 1 concern. I fully realize in this electronic age, we could have a system designed as fraud proof as one can be, but it’s Kenyans we are talking about and if even here in the US, electronic balloting can be manipulated, Kenyans who have now out-paced Nigerians in matters fraud would find ways to manipulate such systems with ease or at least that’s one of our concerns.
Second, the question of who is or what is “diaspora” is another concern I have and this is where things might get stickier than in other parts of the as yet to be passed legislation to implement this provision.
A Kenyan living in Anchorage, Alaska is in the diaspora much the same as one living across the border from Kenya in Juba. Should both be accorded the same voting rights despite Juba’s close proximity to Kenya compared to Anchorage, Alaska? This is one of the many questions IEBC must ask and answer.
Third, even within countries or areas destined as “diaspora,” venue for actual voting presents another concern; should there be multiple locations within those areas or must everyone be required to vote in one central location within that diaspora region or country?
Fourth, and a venue related concern, how will the laws in the respective diaspora designated areas affect our own laws? There are countries which may prohibit voting by foreign nationals within their borders outside the embassies?
Fifth, given the different time zones, how will the voting be conducted such that there is no leaking of the trends in places that vote early that may impact the rest of the voting one way or another?
Again, these are some of the questions IEBC must ask and answer in order to array or some of these concerns and I am sure there are others.
In the spirit of not presenting problems or concerns without solutions, let me suggest a few solutions which I think may address some of these concerns.
Regarding voter fraud, my suggestion would be to retain the services of a thoroughly vetted outside firm to electronically conduct the elections and by outside firm, I mean not a Kenyan firm.
To reduce the opportunity for mischief and fraud, voting must be physically limited to Kenya embassies and consulates in the diaspora countries.
No mailing in of any ballots should be allowed.
Requiring voting only at the embassies and consulates should in by itself eliminate the concern for establishing multiple locations within the region, which also would in turn make the exercise cost feasible.
As for defining what is “diaspora” within the meaning of the constitution, this should be done in a manner such that only those countries any ordinary Kenyan can name should be deemed diaspora, excluding the whole of Africa which Kenyans living in those countries should be required to go and vote at home as those serious there about voting are currently doing, anyway.
Preventing early voting influence or impact on later voting due to time zone differences could be handled by having a tightly controlled voting system with access limited to less than a handful of people who are under strict orders not to disclose the information on any voting trends until voting is completed and results transmitted to Nairobi.
Regarding how laws in the diaspora designated countries may affect our own laws, CIC should look into and make sure there is no glitch about that come implementation time.
Taking these measures and others should ensure that we have diaspora voting that is implemented consistent with our objective to finally have the most transparent and open elections in our country be that within or outside the country.
We should, however, err on the side of caution.
IEBC and CIC should carefully study and evaluate this issue as they currently are before making recommendations.
Parliament should, of course, approve or amend as necessary but there should be no rush to do so for the sake of 2012.
If more time is needed to ensure that we have a more perfect system, then that’s what should happen.
Peace, Unity and Progress