IEBC now wants Kenyan diaspora to vote days in advance 

Marjan Husein

IEBC Chief Executive Marjan Hussein Marjan when he appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to respond to audit queries at Parliament buildings on February 16, 2023.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

The electoral commission now wants Kenyans in the diaspora to vote online and days in advance in the 2027 General Election, a revolutionary idea that could see citizens abroad being part of key decision makers in presidential polls.

Currently, Kenyan citizens abroad are only allowed to vote in the presidential election on the day of the General Election in Kenya, and in Kenyan embassies and consulates in 12 countries.

There are currently 10,443 registered voters in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa, South Sudan, Germany, United Kingdom, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Canada and the United States of America.

Now, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) wants MPs to approve regulations on online and advance voting—taking to the ballot days, even weeks before the scheduled General Election—before they can roll it out.

The electoral agency told National Assembly Diaspora and Migrant Workers Committee to consider reviewing the legal framework on diaspora registration and voting in order to provide flexibility as Kenyans abroad exercise their democratic duty.

“If we must do e-voting, regulations must be put in place. It is something that we are to table now that we have time. We are pursuing legislation to introduce online voting mode in the diaspora elections,” said IEBC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Marjan Hussein Marjan.

The CEO made the remarks after MPs questioned why, despite the high number of Kenyans in diaspora, only a few participate in the presidential voting during elections.

Documents tabled by IEBC indicate that out of 1.4 million Kenyans in diaspora according to information provided by the Ministry of Foreign of Affairs, only 10,443 are registered as voters and only 6,032 participated in the August elections last year.

In the August poll, Kenyans in South Sudan registered the highest turnout of 977 registered voters, 788 turned out to vote representing 80 percent voter turnout followed by Kenyans registered in Canada, Ottawa who registered 79 voter turnout.

Mr Marjan told MPs that the number of diaspora voters who turn out to vote is still low because consulates and Kenya’s High commissions are located in areas where there are not many Kenyans.

He said that currently, the law restricts IEBC to only conduct elections in High Commissions or consulates, and not any other place, hence many Kenyans are disenfranchised.

“The regulations require the commission to publish the names of countries in which voter registration and voting is to take place. By law, the registration of voters must take place on Kenyan soil. As for outside the country, the law restricts registration and voting to the identified Kenyans embassy, High Commission and consulates,” Mr Marjan said.

“There is a need of opening consulates in preferred destinations for Kenyans. In future, the commission will seek legal guidance and support to reach out to Kenyans leaving far from established embassies, High Commissions and consulates,” Mr Marjan said.

He cited the USA saying majority of Kenyans reside in the Midwest states in cities of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin but there are no consulates in them hence they are locked out from voting.

He also said in the UK, the High Commission is located in Central London, while majority of Kenyans live and work outside London.

He further cited Germany where the Kenyan Embassy is located in Berlin, which is not the preferred destination of Kenyans in Europe who live and work around industrial cities such as Bonn, Dortmund and Essen.

Mr Marjan also cited lack of policies to host government on foreign electoral activities being conducted in their territories. For instance, he said in Qatar, voter registration materials were detained at the airport despite shipment under the diplomatic cargo arrangements.