Poor messaging to blame for voter registration apathy

Friday, February 4th, 2022 00:00 | By
Voter Registration exercise of Voters. Photo/PD/FILE

Isam Latoti 

The Independent Electoral  and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is in a fix. With just days to go before the second and final Enhanced Continuous Voter Registration exercise ends, it is depressingly clear the anticipated target of registering more than six million new voters is a fantasy.

During the first phase from October 4 to November 5, IEBC managed to register 1.5 million new voters. This represents 25 per cent of the total targeted population. The reverse implication is that a whopping 4.5 million eligible voters are missing from the voter’s register.

The second voter registration drive kicked off on January 17. It will end on February 6. This second phase was intended to net the millions of voters left out during Phase One. Going by the latest data from IEBC, this target will be missed by a wide margin.

Out of 4.48 million targeted voters, only a paltry 587,000 have been registered with less than a week to go. It will take a miracle to register over two million in the remaining days.

This extremely dismal achievement cannot justify the billions of taxpayers’ shillings used by the poll’s body for this exercise. One convenient scapegoat IEBC loves taking refuge in is the defense that it cannot force unwilling people to register. All it can do is encourage Kenyans to register.

While this may be the case, the main failure to this whole debacle lies on poor messaging.

It is sad that with all the expertise at its disposal and plump budget, IEBC failed on the simple activity of designing a succinct message that resonated well with the millions of targeted voters; mostly the youth.

For ages, IEBC voters’ registration anthem was simple: the words “constitutional right” were always at the heart of every messaging. The words were once magical for people craving for change from a one party state.

A cursory look at history shows the only period the polls body registered a significant increase in registration of voters was when there was a looming politically seismic moment. 

In the pre-2002 poll when Kenyans united under Narc to kick Kanu out of power after a 24-rule, millions registered. Another surge was the push for a new constitution where Kenyans registered in their numbers to tame the powers of imperial presidency and usher in devolved governments.

In 2022, the phrase ‘constitutional right’ has gone stale. The magic is no more. To a tech-savvy youth who spends his time oscillating from Tiktok to Instagram, ‘constitutional right’ is simply alien psychobabble. They are wondering why the fuss over not having a voter’s card.

The most terrifying thing is that they are comfortable without being voters. In their minds, matters of constitution, voting and elections are as remote as they are insipid. Simply put, the youth are not interested in the voting process.

This antiquated phase is unattractive. The dilapidated words ring hollow. They do not make sense. The millions of freewheeling youth already immersed in the Disneyland of social networks have better things to do than respond to a call they barely identify with.

This group was the primary target for voter registration exercise. IEBC should have designed a catchy message; specifically designed to appeal to this group. This should have explained why as a youth it mattered to vote; what was in it for them; why they should hit the pause button on a video to register as a voter.

Sadly, IEBC decided to walk the beaten path it has walked for decades. The results are dismal registration results and a burgeoning population of young adults totally disinterested in who occupies positions of leaders. This is terrifying.

It does not matter how many ads are designed to urge voters to register. If the message is wrong, it simply will not work. It will not cure the malady of indifference in the youth. Urging politicians to shore up support in their regions is a good effort but will still not yield expected results.

The solution is simple:  IEBC must change its messaging. It must discover the magic in tiktok and insta-stories. It needs to seek out influencers to address the youth. It must seduce the youth and make them feel important. It should get the message right.

As it stands now, the voter registration target will not be met. If  IEBC does not wake up, the turnout for August polls might be a bigger disaster. — The writer comments on topical issue

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