Uncertainty over voter registration in US

USA: The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) came under heavy criticism over the weekend from Kenyans in the US as it became apparent that voter registration for the Diaspora will not take off as earlier planned.

Frustrated Kenyans living in the US who spoke to The Standard on phone expressed fear that the whole issue of voter registration may turn out to be a big hoax

“I’m afraid at the end of it all, this thing will turn out to be another big scandal. Early in the week, we were told that IEBC was recruiting clerks to help in registration and when you call the embassy in DC, nobody seems to know what is going on. Now we are told even registration won’t start on Monday?” Asked Cyrus Chomba of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Even the Kenyan ambassador to US, Elkanah Odembo complained loudly over the weekend that he had not received any communication from Nairobi as to what to do or expect. Mr Odembo said it was apparent that the exercise would not start on Monday as earlier announced. The ambassador, who always takes the heat on behalf of IEBC could not hide his frustrations anymore.

“I’m concerned that Kenya’s largest Diaspora may very well miss out on this historic event. That would be both unfortunate and discouraging.” Said Mr Odembo in a text message sent to the press on Saturday.

This initial mis-step on the long journey to making Kenyans living abroad participate for the first time ever in the political process of their country of origin only help compound the mistrust between the IEBC and the Diaspora. Many Kenyans living in the US have consistently criticised the decision by the IEBC to permit registration and balloting for the March 4th elections in only three locations in the US.

These are the embassy in Washington, DC and the two consulates in New York and Los Angeles. In designating only three polling places in the US, a country that is estimated to be 17 times the size of Kenya, IEBC cited lack of resources and logistical challenges hinderances.

Many Kenyans have accused the IEBC of being insensitive to the needs of the Diaspora by requiring them to have to travel several hundred miles to register at the embassy in Washington, the consulate in Los Angeles, or the United Nations mission in New York.

They have complained that even after several trips to the US by the commission to consult them, the commission disregarded all their suggestions of e-voting and expansion of registration and polling stations.

“What was the need of them spending tax payers money on trips to the US when they knew very well that they were not going to consider our suggestions? This is outrageous!” Said Mike Kihoro of Newark, Delaware.

Mr Kihoro said he was livid that even at this time, there seem to be no indication and assurance that registration will actually be possible within the specified time frame of November 19-December 19.

Voter registration for the forthcoming Kenya General Elections is set to start on Monday, November 19 and end on December 19.

Kenyans in the Diaspora are eligible to vote and to register to vote in their countries of residence as provided for in the new constitution.

The IEBC announced earlier this month that Kenyans residing in the US would register to vote at the Embassy in Washington, DC and the consulates in New York and Los Angeles.

It was therefore surprising to many when the Kenya embassy in Washington, DC posted a message on its web site on Friday afternoon to the effect that the IEBC had not communicated to the embassy on the commencement of voter registration at the embassy.

The message read in part, “This is to inform that the IEBC Chairman during his visit to the US early this month assured that Diaspora voter registration will take place in Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC. Please note that the IEBC has not communicated to the Embassy about the commencement of voter registration in the Diaspora. The Embassy will keep you updated as and when we receive information from the IEBC.”



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