On April 30th, 2023, Atlas organized with the Democracy & Culture Foundation grassroots consultations to crowdsource policies on how to improve the power of voting. Around 110 people joined the full in-person event that lasted from 1.30 pm to 6.30 pm, and between 10 to 20 people were present online (depending on the hour).
Andrea Venzon opened the day by explaining the urgency of finding solutions to voter apathy, and innovating voting as a whole. He went through the program of the day, the “rules of the game” and explained how the results of the consultations will be used by the Democracy and Culture Foundation and presented at the 2023 Athens Democracy Forum.
Online participants joined via videoconference.
The event was opened with thought-provoking remarks by the following prestigious speakers: Clive Donnley (Atlas volunteer and human rights activist), Nerima Wako-Ojiwa (CEO of Siasa Place), Boniface Mwangi (photojournalist, politician, and activist). Colombe Cahen-Salvador moderated the panel and enabled the audience to participate. Panelists mentioned core issues linked to the panel of voting such as endemic corruption, lack of identity documents that make it impossible for people to vote, and the difficulty for women to vote independently.
Such panels can help in setting the stage and ensuring that participants think outside of the box.
Identification of Issues
Following this panel, participants were asked to identify at least three issues they identified with “voting”.
Those present in person were divided into five groups and asked to designate a spokesperson to take notes and present the results. Those present online were able to brainstorm together and input their ideas into the software provided. They all had 30 minutes to identify issues linked to today's democracy, primarily focusing on the "power of voting."
The spokesperson of each group was then asked to present the issues identified. Here are the issues/pain points that came up:
- Access to voting (e.g. lack of IDs or distance from voting stations)
- Lack of good governance standards that were actually applied.
- Persistence of electoral violence, such as voter intimidation and lack of safety for women and children.
- Corruption during the voting process, including voter bribery and buying, as well as corruption of electoral institutions.
- Weak justice system, little transparency and accountability after the vote.
- Lack of youth involvement in voting, and lack of inclusivity.
- Ethnicity and lack of values - this included how to not vote only along tribal lines.
- Lack of knowledge and understanding of the need for voting, the work of institutions, and related topics.
- General situation of poverty and illiteracy.
- Lack of clarity on political agendas, lack of ideological lines dividing parties and candidates, personality-driven voting.
- Voters’ apathy due to the lack of trust in the electoral process and political candidates.
Prioritization of issues
Many issues were outlined, and participants then prioritized the ones they wanted to tackle, or thought were the most important. They all had three votes and proceeded to vote.
The top three issues were selected to be tackled in the next phase. This was done online through the consultation software provided by Atlas, in which participants can “upvote” or “downvote” measures, and in person by giving participants stickers to place on the post-its they thought were most important.
The three main issues were:
- Corruption during the voting process (51 votes) - this included voter bribery and buying, as well as corruption of electoral institutions.
- Lack of youth involvement in voting (41 votes) - this included the lack of youth empowerment and inclusivity.
- Ethnicity and lack of values (38 votes) - this included how to not vote only along tribal lines.
Creation of Citizens’ Proposals
Following the prioritization of issues, citizens went back to their group (online and offline) to create proposals that would best address any or all the three issues selected. They had around one hour to do so. They were asked to make concrete proposals that could be used in Kenya and abroad.
Solutions identified online were then presented to the in-person audience by the facilitators. The in-person spokespersons were then asked to present their solutions to the audience again. Here are the solutions that came up:
- Introduce a leadership probation period for newly elected politicians. This could work for example by creating an independent committee to review behaviors of newly elected leaders and potentially propose a vote of no confidence to the public in the event of unethical conduct.
- Develop a youth-led taskforce to highlight the needs of the youth to candidates and elected officials. This would help the youth in being heard before heading to the polls.
- Blacklist politicians that have been guilty of corruption and run background checks on candidates.
- Provide options on the ballot to vote not only for candidates, but also on policies.
- Create quotas in elected positions and for political parties to ensure more diversity (in terms of age, tribes, gender and more).
- Invest public funds in social media influencers for “go out to vote” campaigns.
- Eliminate barriers to voting through digital, blockchain-based voting.
- Put in place voting alerts directly sent to people from governments to remind them of elections (like emergency COVID-19 alerts that popped up on phones).
- Ensure that all candidates can propose their ideas to their community by enabling the organization of state or community-sponsored local, in person events. This would specifically help provide an outlet to reach the public for less funded candidates.
- Elect a national youth council to represent the youth and cultivate a political culture. This is quite specific to Kenya, as this position used to be elected.
- Ensure lifelong civic education, the teaching of democratic values from a young age, and encourage exchange programmes to overcome tribalism and encourage engagement in democratic life.
- Expand the positions that the people directly elect to all important positions (eg head of Judiciary).
- Lower the minimum age of voting to 15.
- Make political parties’ funding fully transparent to the public.
- Enable the youth to have a voice more than every couple of years through participatory legislative processes
It is worth noting that during this process, a few solutions were neither precise nor practical, which meant that the facilitators engaged in longer discussions with the groups to formulate those proposals.
Prioritization of citizens’ proposals
Many solutions were outlined, and participants then prioritized the ones they preferred, or thought were the most important. They all had three votes and proceeded to voting:
- Ensure lifelong civic education, the teaching of democratic values from a young age, and encourage exchange programmes to overcome tribalism and encourage engagement in democratic life. (68 votes)
- Blacklist politicians that have been guilty of corruption, and run background checks on candidates (51 votes)
- Develop a youth-led taskforce to highlight the needs of the youth to candidates and elected officials. This would help the youth in being heard before heading to the polls. (41 votes)
- Elect a national youth council to represent the youth (35 votes)
- Create quotas in elected positions and for political parties to ensure more diversity (in terms of age, tribes, gender and more). (11 votes)
The session was then concluded with the facilitators announcing the results, repeating the next steps, and thanking everyone!
Hon. Esther Passaris (Nairobi County Member Of the National Assembly) was present in the and promised to push forward the proposals in Parliament. We followed up with her after the consultations and introduced her to the DCF team.
- For participants registration, the software utilized were Nation Builder and Google Forms
- For online participation and online voting, the software utilized were Zoom and Padlet