A successful election does not depend solely on what happens on ballot day, the totality of the process must be examined, including preliminary issues such as the nature of the electoral system, Voter organization and Voter education.

Article 1 of Uganda’s Constitution vests all power in the people of Uganda. The people are required to exercise their sovereignty in accordance with the law. In order to exercise this power, the people must be informed. Voter education creates awareness and knowledge among the electorate and spells out the roles of the stakeholders in the whole electoral process. Voter education is an important aspect that promotes the credibility of an election because it empowers citizens with knowledge on how to exercise their right to vote in any election.

A polling official checks for the details of a voter in Kaboong during the parliamentary elections in 2017.

According to the post-election evaluation undertaken between April and July 2016 by ACACIA, a consultancy firm in collaboration with the Electoral Commission, the 2015-2016 general elections registered the highest voter turnout of 67.6%. This was explained by strong voter mobilization strategies laid down by both the Electoral Commission and 26 civil society organizations out of the 72 accredited. In the end, 15,277,198 voters were on the voters roll. Out of the 15 million who registered, 10,329,131 people voted. In other words, 4,948,067 didn’t participate in the 2016 general elections. Who are these people? let’s assume we have the security personnel keeping law and order, journalists, local observers, electoral staff, those admitted in hospitals, doctors on duty, Ugandans in the diaspora and prisoners. If we still go by the current laws these people will still not exercise their right to vote, the question is why register if you won’t vote.

The study also found out that there were high numbers of invalid votes (477,319) registered in 2015-2016 general elections. Some of the challenges highlighted in the study were that the massages were not pre-tested both the Electoral Commission; and civil society had no time to do that. For the commission to register a low number of invalid votes, there is need to intensify voter education in the rural and hard to reach areas such as Karamoja, Amudat, Ntoroko ,Kalangala, Buvuuma Islands, Mayuge etc. CCEDU observed that voter education was inadequate in these areas due to the limited budget allocation accorded to the activity during the election period. The Constitution clearly spells out the relevance in Article 61 (1), which mandates the Electoral Commission to carry out voter education .A good percentage of those intending to contest in 2021 are focusing on raising money to facilitate their campaigns forgetting that if the voters are not sensitized they might either stay home or vote and cause invalid votes. Chances are high that the candidates might fail to attain the required 50% of the total votes cast, which might cost the country billions of shillings as we go in for election re-runs.

Reason why voter education should have started yesterday and on a continuous basis The commission should revise its strategy and reconsider the recommendations by different election observers, the consultancy firm (ACACIA) which mainly suggests that EC should use the existing field structures of parish and sub county election officers coordinated by district registrars to conduct continuous and sustainable voter education especially during periods with less electoral activity. The job descriptions of district registrars and their deputies need to be revised to emphasize voter education as a core and continuous responsibility and appraisal should be conducted on such. The Electoral Commission should also consider mobilizing civil society organizations such as CCEDU that have traditionally been undertaking this noble task and support them to be the providers of voter education countrywide. In 2015, observer reports noted that the amendments to the Presidential elections Act and Parliamentary Elections Act were enacted in August, 2015 and October, 2015; the EC had already prepared and publicized a voter education manual which was based on the provisions of the principal Act indicating that polling would close at 5:00pm. That information remained on the EC’s website till polling day, 18th February, 2016 despite changes in the law on closing time which had been reviewed to 4: OOPM.

BY LULE FARIDAH

Analyst Elections &Learning

Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU).