The Electoral Commission (EC) says it’s conducting a study to understand why voters don’t turn up to vote.
Cyprian Ogwang, the head of Research and Planning Department at EC says this survey will be part of the evaluation of the entire election process they conducted in 2021.
He says the survey began after the 2021 election and preliminary findings could be released next month. And EC, he says will reach out to several stakeholders including civil societies that conduct voter education.
Urban districts have always registered a low voter turnout. For instance, in the January 2021 presidential election, Kampala had a 43 percent voter turnout. In 2016, it polled 51.48 percent, 41.52 per cent in 2011, 58.7 per cent in 2006. It is only in 2001 when Kampala registered a voter turnout of 71 percent, just above the national average of 69 percent.
And in the January 14th presidential election, Gulu city had the lowest voter turnout with 33 percent, followed by Kampala, Amuru. then Arua city, and Jinja city with 45 percent respectively. The national average voter turnout was 59 percent.
Cyprian says better answers as to why people don’t vote will come after EC completes an evaluation of the 2021 election. But he argues that issues about how electoral laws are crafted and how registers are updated also affect who turns up to vote.Voter registration and voting, he says, are “for the willing” meaning that no one can be compelled to go to vote.
URN reporters visited 30 polling stations that had low voter turnout in Kampala and interviewed more than 45 people. A common thread from responses of people who never voted, and community leaders in areas that had a low voter turnout are panic that there was going to be violence after the election, which prompted people to run to their countryside homes.
The belief that elections cannot result into change also discouraged people from voting.
Other voters say they never wanted to spend their money traveling to polling stations when they found that their polling stations had been moved to distant places. But particularly in Naguru parish which had a string of polling stations with less than 20 percent voter turnout, voters of these polling stations live within or adjacent to the police barracks. Local leaders say police officers could not vote when they were on duty while others had been transferred.
Ogwang admits that issues like the cost of voting in urban areas where people need transport to go and vote, people living in outskirts of urban centers, and lack of choices, where some voters lack competent candidates to vote for, may cause low voter turnout in urban areas.
Asked if heavy security deployment and violence during campaigns contributed to low voter turnout, Ogwang said, “security has a big say in the election.” He added: “I think if you’re fair, you cannot say we don’t need security during the election. As we play our role, other stakeholders also have to play their roles,” Ogwang added.
When all stakeholders play their role, he asserts, elections end peacefully and many people vote.
Charity Ahimbisibwe, Executive Director Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy Uganda (CCEDU) says the fact that low voter turnout in urban areas has been the trend for the last two decades deserves critical interventions.
She contends that there are many people in urban areas, who are enthused and speak about politics but they end up not updating their names on the register, some of them end up not voting by choice.