Is it right to deny someone participation in elections over a national id?

Which is the lesser evil: Using the old 2011 voter register or the 2015 biometric one compiled using information from the national Identity Card registration exercise?

That is the question many voters, politicians, and civil society organisations want answered.

This follows the Electoral Commission (EC’s) decision on Wednesday to stop the nomination of Mr Norbert Mao for Gulu Municipality parliamentary race.

The EC maintains that Mao neither registered for the national ID nor responded to the April to May EC voter register verification update and is therefore not a registered voter.

So, is it right to deny one a chance to vote or participate in the coming elections on account of an ID? And what happens to Ugandans who were out of the country during registration and the EC’s update exercise?

Mr Wandera Ogalo, a constitutional lawyer, says it was illegal to use information from the ID databank to compile the voter register.

“The ID registration was done before there was a legal framework in place,” Mr Ogalo told Daily Monitor yesterday.

Medard Lubega Ssegona and Abdu Katuntu, the shadow constitutional affairs minister and the shadow attorney general, respectively, had in May also challenged the use of national ID data for the voters register.

Referring to the Constitution, they argued during heated House debate on the law on national registration that it was the responsibility of the EC to independently compile the voters register.

Article 61(1)a of the Constitution says: “The Electoral Commission shall have the following functions—to compile, maintain, revise and update the voters register.

However, the EC counters that it was acting according to its schedule, which meant it had to do certain things within certain timelines.

The commission says it gave all eligible Ugandans time to either register to vote, or for those who were already registered voters by 2011, to update their particulars. It then added some information from the national ID databank just to rope in more people.

The Registration of Persons Act, 2014, which created the National Registration and Identification Authority to register all citizens and non–citizens, allows the authority to cooperate and share information with other government agencies, like the EC.

But the House committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, which scrutinised the Bill, had in October 2014 expressed reservations about the creation of a new authority to register citizens during and after the 2016 general election.

The committee said this is a constitutional preserve of the EC.

But then Internal Affairs minister Aronda Nyakairima (RIP) defended the proposed law, arguing it would help the government save the money spent on multiple- registration centres.

Opposition MPs led by shadow internal affairs minister Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi told journalists then at Parliament the law could help the ruling party “manipulate” the voters register for the 2016 election.

What does the EC’s decision mean?

There are concerns that some of the people who both registered for IDs and responded to the EC voter verification, are not on the register.

“I know of five cases,” Mr Crispy Kaheru, the coordinator of the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, says.

Way forward?

“If I were Badru Kiggundu, I would revert to the 2011 voter register, updated in 2015. It is a lesser evil than disenfranchising thousands,” Mr Ogalo says.

Mr Kaheru concurs. “But, if they did not register during the mass enrolment and did not go during the voter register update to be included on the voter register, then they should not complain. It is not the fault of the Electoral Commission,” he adds.

EC secretary Sam Rwakoojo says information in the old voter register could not be relied on partly because it was not easy to spot and remove those who might have registered in two different polling stations.

Besides, he says, “We had no way of easily identifying citizens”. This point, however, unwittingly shines the light on the fact that non-citizens are feared to have registered for national IDs and, as such, could easily now be on the voters register.

SOURCE: DAILY MONITOR