KAMPALA – On Friday, October 11, 2019, I met a group of young people called Vijana in Makerere university to discuss the 2021 elections. We discussed a wide-range of issues mainly concerning youth participation, the highly monetized elections and how that impedes youth participation in elections and we ended by talking about the Electoral Commission National Voter update.
I asked the young people if they knew that on November 21, 2019 the Electoral Commission will commence on the National Voter Update? They said they had not heard about it.
It then occurred to me that it was not only the youth who had not heard about this very significant activity of the electoral calendar, but many voters’ at large. I impressed it upon them, that update of the national voters’ register is the determining factor of who will vote and who won’t. The update provides an opportunity for citizen’s to confirm their names on the register.
On Friday, October 11, 2019, at Imperial Royale Hotel, the Electoral Commission held a national stakeholders workshop, where they explained to participants what the national voter update entails. After the national stakeholder’s workshop, the EC held the regional workshops from Monday October 14, 2019. These were conducted for two days. After the regional stakeholders’ workshops on the voter register update, the Electoral Commission will carry out village mobilization campaigns between October 18, and October 20, 2019. The EC will then conduct village council meetings between October 21, 2019, and October, 28, 2019. We can all help ourselves, by pushing out this message to our village WhatsApp forums and through various village meetings.
The update process will give an opportunity to citizens to scrutinize and identify their particulars in the Electoral Commission database. What normally happens is that people think this process is not important because they have voted before and, therefore, should be on the National register; this is a wrong assumption. Each election comes with an update and display process, because some people would have died, others might want to change polling stations, others might want to vote from their places of birth and all these processes cannot be achieved except you personally make it to the voter update.
The update process will be all-encompassing for the youth, who elect their leaders through the electoral college system, the people with disabilities who have a special representative in parliament and all citizens who are 18 years and above. For all citizens who may want to stand as candidates; it is important to encourage all your voter’s to participate in this process.
CCEDU intends to observe these process through our countrywide infrastructure. The observation will take place at district, regional, parish and village level. The idea will be to keep track of the process in terms of the training and briefings for the participants, to establish if the process has been adequately published by the electoral commission, all complaints are resolved and meetings are held at village, parish, district and regional level. Apart from observation, CCEDU will utilize its nation-wide 927 civil society organisations to disseminate information about the update process. CCEDU already blasted messages to its membership alerting them of these important processes.
The village council meetings will have a returning officer, a village chairperson, a village council resident or residents, sub-county supervisors and parish supervisors, plus the ordinary voters’. Ugandans need to be vigilant right from village level as these processes take place. At village level there will be scrutiny of the voter’s register to clearly identify who is on the register.
Those who will be deleted, it will be a unanimous position that they are dead or they have shifted to vote from the cities where they live.
There are still challenges that afflict the national voters register. Complaints of ‘ghost’ voters remain. Some of the glitches could be technical, arising from how the national voters register is managed – especially after the passing of the Registration of Persons Act, 2015.
The public needs to renew their keen interest on registering for National Identification Cards (ID). However, CCEDU notes with concern that there is not the same enthusiasm to register deaths – when they occur. Equally, there is not the same fervor to deregister voters who are no longer eligible such as persons who have relinquished Ugandan citizenship. This potentially leaves ‘ghosts’ on the register. It is difficult to confirm or contradict the allegations of ‘ghost voters’ and in the 15th March 2018, Jinja East Constituency by-election, CCEDU observed the complexities that arise from streamlining the electoral roll with the National Identification Register.
In order to rid the voters register of any ineligible voters, the Electoral Commission and the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) need to collaborate with the wanainchi (citizens’), especially with regard to publicizing on-going citizen registration exercises, alongside articulating the importance of the registration of deaths and of persons who have left the country or denounced Ugandan citizenship. Citizen vigilance from village to national level will be central in framing a clean and credible national voters register ahead of the 2021 elections. The Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology can also play a pivotal role in making e-government platforms available to increase awareness among citizens about the voter update process. UBC and its countrywide network, plus all other media can collaborate with CCEDU and we put out exciting messages for the good of Uganda’s democracy. The government will have to encourage open and meaningful support from local leaders, citizens and civil society in this regard.
The writer is the Head of Communication and Advocacy at the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda.