The Kenyan embassy in Washington DC has proposed postal voting for Kenyans in the diaspora during the forthcoming general elections.
The embassy said it was ready to recommend vote-by-mail to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), for an effective participation by diaspora Kenyans.
Speaking exclusively to Nation.co.ke, Kenyan ambassador to the US, Robinson Githae, said previous suggestions that Kenyans living in the US cast their ballots at the embassy in DC or its affiliate consulates in Los Angeles and New York was not workable owing to the expansive nature of the country.
“America is a very big country and Kenyans living here are spread in almost all the states. To require that somebody travels from say, Alaska or San Francisco to Washington DC — a distance that could be equated to travelling from Kenya to London just to cast a vote is not only time consuming and expensive but is also unreasonable,” Mr Githae said.
“I’ve seen it for myself for the time I’ve been here and I’m ready to recommend postal voting to IEBC,” he added.
Vote-by-mail is a variation of postal voting in most developed countries including the US and UK in which a ballot is mailed to a registered voter.
The voter then fills it out and returns it via postal mail.
This process eliminates the requirement of staffing and running a polling centre during an election and can reduce costs for the country that successfully implements it.
Cost and manpower implications are issues IEBC has cited as some of the reasons for the delay in implementing the diaspora vote.
To vote by mail, an individual marks the ballot for their choice of the candidates (or writes in the candidate’s name), places the ballot in an envelope, seals it and then signs and writes the date on the back of the mailing envelope.
This envelope is then either stamped and mailed at any mailbox, or dropped off at a local ballot collection centre.
During the interview, Mr Githae was not clear as to where the ballots would be mailed — to Kenya or to designated polling stations at the consulates in US.
“This is something we leave to the electoral body to figure out. As of now, what I know is the fact that the postal system in the US for instance is very advanced and reliable. If we do it right, it should be able to work for us,” he said.
OPEN TO ABUSE
The proposal is likely to be resisted by some in the diaspora who believe the system is open to abuse especially if the ballots have to be mailed to Kenya.
In the US, voter fraud through this system is said to be very low.
Concerns about postal voting have also been raised on whether it complies with the requirements of a secret ballot.
This is because the vote is cast outside the security of a polling station. Questions also arise on whether voters can cast their vote free from the influence of another person.
During his two visits to the US last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta promised the diaspora that he would personally make sure they vote in the forthcoming elections.
The President then directed the relevant bodies charged with registering the diaspora to vote to do so immediately.
During the interview, Ambassador Githae said preparations were underway to speed up the issuance of Identity cards to Kenyans living abroad in the coming months.
“In preparation for the diaspora vote, we have to make sure that as many Kenyans living here as possible are issued with Identity cards because it a basic requirement.
“We urge the diaspora to take this exercise seriously and turn out in large numbers whenever they hear we are in their neighbourhoods issuing IDs,” he said.