Kenya’s electoral agency says an ongoing audit of its voters’ roll has found the names of nearly 250,000 deceased voters on the register. Nearly half a million more voters were found to have duplicate records and more than 226,000 people were registered using documents that do not belong to them. Others had registered with invalid documents, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said in a statement that revealed the anomalies which affect more than a million people.

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati said that because of the “implementation of the preliminary audit findings”, the commission would delay certifying the final register for publication. The commission said earlier that it would publish the register of voters on or before 9 June but has pushed that to 20 June as it seeks to address the findings by KPMG, the firm contracted to do the audit.

Electoral irregularities in past elections in Kenya have led to deadly violence. This year’s elections will be held on 9 August. Four presidential candidates have been cleared to run in the election – David Mwaure, George Wajackoyah, Raila Odinga and William Ruto.

Source: ACLED

This is an important development for East Africa’s biggest economy as Kenya continues to languish in the shadows of its dark electoral past. The 2007 elections witnessed violence that left about a thousand people dead. 10 years later, polls that observers largely judged as quite fair were disputed by the opposition. Raila Odinga’s campaign chief, Musalia Mudavidi, told journalists that a mole inside the electoral commission leaked to them the real results showing Mr Odinga won–contradicting the IEBC’s declaration of President Kenyatta’s victory.

While the IEBC’s decision to audit the voter’s register is instructive – it is a step that does the barest minimum to assure voters of a commitment to transparency. That is not to minimise its importance as it also offers a useful precedent to other African countries. While the election management body in Kenya is conducting a comprehensive audit of its voters’ roll, their Nigerian counterparts at INEC still employ a ‘Claims and Objections’ exercise as a means of auditing its register.

The well-intentioned exercise is aimed at providing an opportunity for all registrants to check for appropriateness or otherwise of their information supplied during registration. It is also to raise objections (if any) about names that are not supposed to be on the register such as underage, dead, foreigners and other unqualified persons.

However, experience has shown that this exercise raises little or no claims or objections when the register is displayed. INEC has shown a lack of will to conduct a thorough audit of the voter register taking a cue from the IEBC in Kenya to employ a professional firm to conduct the exercise. The current Claims and Objections procedure has not adequately removed the names and details of deceased voters on the register.

The current registration process has identified voters who were found to have duplicate records using facial recognition and the Automated Fingerprint Identification Software (AFIS). This does not do enough to aid a ‘clean register’. In the calculations around voter turnout (which will continue to remain low for obvious reasons), the data of deceased voters, underage voters and other factors that compromise the integrity of the register will continue to influence the calculations.

All in all, it is expected that there will be around 19 million registered Kenyans who can participate in the elections, a little less than the expected 24.5 million voters after the last voter registration exercise saw only about a million newly registered voters as against the expected 4.5 million registrations, according to the last publicly released data in February 2022.

It is not yet known what regions are most impacted by the deregistering of deceased voters, those with false documents or double registrations and how that will impact the electoral chances of the candidates. What is known is that with the rambunctious nature of Kenyan politics, this exercise might turn out not to be as simple as planned.