The Prison Voter Registration Exercise: Observations and Recommendations

KITUO LOGO with Legal Advice Centre

The genesis of the push for voting rights of prisoners began soon after the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010 where in a historic judgement; the Court held that prisoners had the right to vote in the referendum.

As of April, 2016 Kenya had well over 56,000 prisoners most of whom are eligible to be registered as voters. When the IEBC began the voter registration exercise in the year 2012, its main target was to register 18 million Kenyans. But by the end of the exercise on 19th December 2012, they had barely reached 15 million despite the heavy campaign for people to go out and get registered.

This year, the push for registration of the prisoners was spearheaded by Kituo Cha Sheria. A letter was issued on the 25th of January to the IEBC after it was reported by various media outlets that the IEBC had no intention of extending the Voter registration exercise to remandees and the convicted. Furthermore, the IEBC   had not gazetted 118 prison facilities as polling stations for elections and voting. The push for consideration of the prisoners’ voter rights was largely premised on the Constitution.

Article 38 of the Constitution of Kenya provides:

  1. Every citizen is free to make political choices, which includes the right—

-to form, or participate in forming, a political party;

-to participate in the activities of, or recruit members for, a political party; or

-to campaign for a political party or cause.

  1. Every citizen has the right to free, fair and regular elections based on universal suffrage and the free expression of the will of the electors for—

-any elective public body or office established under this Constitution; or

-any office  of any political party of which the citizen is a member.

  1. 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; and

-to be a candidate for public office, or office within a political party of which  the citizen is  a member and, if elected, to hold office.

 It is through this push that the IEBC together with stakeholders such as The National Registration Bureau (NRB) and the Kenya Prisons Service began the process of prison voter registration.

Kituo was able to monitor the week long activity through our extensive Prison Justice Paralegal network ranging from Kodiaga prison in Kisumu, Kakamega Main Prison, Nyeri (King’ong’o) Prison, Meru Prison and at the Coast where we had paralegals reporting from King’orani, Kwale and Shimo La Tewa Prisons.

All in all the exercise ran smoothly. It is in this regard that we, as Kituo wish to commend the government through the IEBC on taking progressive steps towards facilitating the registration of prisoners as voters. However there were some pertinent areas that the stakeholders   involved fell short and which we feel should be publicly addressed.

For instance, there were several instances whereby prisoners who did not have proper Identification Cards were not registered as voters. This left out a large number of potential voters who had other government-issued documents like waiting cards which ideally should suffice as identification and proof of application for ID. This was largely the responsibility of the NRB (National Registration Bureau).

Secondly, the question of which electoral positions the prisoners could vote for came into question. Our position as Kituo is that Prisoners should be eligible to vote for all six positions and not be restricted to any specific vote- the presidential vote.

Finally, there was poor communication between the IEBC, the Prisons Service and the prisons/inmates as to the directive that they would be eligible for voter registration.

In some of our justice centres, no communication had been delivered on the intended exercise. We had to follow up with IEBC regional offices in some areas in order to find out if they had issued such information to the prisons.

It would be important to have the prisons service on board as they have a great role to play in terms of making administrative arrangements that would allow the prisoners cast their votes.

It is in light of the above that Kituo believes that it is imperative that the IEBC must guarantee the participation of prisoners not only upon the prompting of civil society but independently as an institution. A lesson to be learnt from this exercise is that other stakeholders need to be actively involved in time in order to ensure maximum results when it comes to voter registration in Kenyan Prisons.

We at Kituo believe this can only be ensured in the future through a tripartite action plan that includes;

  • Effective voter registration in prisons across the country. Policy guidelines must be put in place for future prisoner voter registration and prisoner information in training curriculums/manuals. This goes hand in hand with accreditation of election officials from gazetted prison centres.
  • Stake holder involvement prior to elections and even post elections. Such factors include The Kenya Prisons Service, Registrar of persons, Civil Society et cetera.
  • Effective communication mechanism regarding access to voter information, documentation and mode of voting and in which polling centres.

The reading of the provisions of article 21 of the constitution shows clearly that the intent of the drafters envisaged that no class of persons should be locked out from participating in choosing a government of their choice. It is the government’s prerogative to ensure that does not occur.

Kituo cha Sheria

We Care for Justice

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