This year’s general election is like no other in Uganda’s history – mainly because it is happening in a world that has been rudely tossed around by the coronavirus pandemic and requiring modifications in various aspects of life, including elections.
A weeks-long rollercoaster ride of political campaigns has brought us to this phase of a hectic election season: polling.
And it all starts this week that is right in our faces, with of course the presidential and parliamentary elections (on Thursday – January 14) soaking up most of the attention. But elections will continue until February!
So if you are readying yourself to cast your ballot come voting day, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind – and this does not matter whether you are a first-time voter or a seasoned one.
‘So how do I vote?’ you may wonder.
What to carry along
To begin with, on the day of voting, don’t forget to carry along your mask and of course wear it at all times. By now, the importance of wearing a mask when out in public – to stem potential contraction or spreading of the coronavirus – should be a song played inside your head over and over again.
Another item – and perhaps the most important one – you should not leave home without on voting day is your national ID or voter’s ID. Remember your name must be in the voter’s register for you to vote and the ID will make verification quick.
It also helps to confirm the location of your polling station. You can do so using a voter locator, which you can find on the Electoral Commission website or on a voter user information platform recently launched by Government called Uchaguzi (Kiswahili for election).
In case you received a voter locator slip, that can also identify your polling station.
Another thing is, don’t leave home or wherever you will be at 5pm to go and vote. Keep in mind that voting officially starts at 7am and ends at 4pm. So if 4pm does not find you already in the line, save your energy.
At the polling station, you will have to queue up to cast your ballot. This is where your threshold for patience is tested. For a smooth and orderly process, it helps to remain composed while in the line – but it is even more important that you maintain a social distance. COVID-19, remember?
When patience finally gets you to the voter verification desk, use your national ID to be identified. The polling officer will ask you to present your finger or thumb for biometric verfication.
To a first-timer, this may seem like something picked out of a sci-fi movie script, but all is well. It is all part of the normal verification procedure.
After confirmation of your details, your fingers will be checked to ensure that you have not already voted. Attempting to vote more than once will definitely land you into trouble – so don’t even think about trying to pull off such a stunt.
Once all is clear, you will be given a ballot paper which will be cast in secret.
Make sure you check the ballot paper for any printing defects and return it in case you notice any.
So if all is okay, you will proceed to a voting basin (more like a booth – for secrecy). On the ballot paper, mark a tick or stamp a thumbprint in the empty box next to the candidate of your choice.
Ensure the tick or thumbprint remains within the boundaries. Short of that, your ballot will automatically be considered invalid. By the way, however large your thumb is, the space provided is sufficient to accommodate the print.
Once you are done here, fold the ballot paper vertically and go ahead and slot it into the ballot box.
So what happens after?
Your hand will then be marked with temporary ink to indicate that you have voted. The Electoral Commission has already directed that you leave the polling station after you have voted to avoid crowding. COVID-19, remember?
Head back home or to any other place of your choice and follow the rest of the process through the media.
Only the approved agents of the candidates have to stay at the polling station to witness the counting and announcement of results.
What happens at 4pm?
At 4pm sharp, no-one is allowed to join the queue and the deployed security officer will stand behind the last voter in the line.
Voting will continue until the last person in the line (as at 4pm) casts their vote, after which the presiding officer will close the election process using the biometric voter verification machine.
The election officials at the polling station will gather voting materials at the table of the presiding office and take account of the unused ballot papers.
The presiding officer will also ensure that all materials are secure. The ballot box will be closed in the presence of polling agents and all present to start the vote counting process.
What happens during vote counting?
After the presiding officer has organised the polling station for counting of votes, he will empty the contents of the ballot box on a surface and arrange and unfold the ballot papers into neat piles.
The ballot papers will be sorted according to the order of candidates. Then they will be counted for each candidate. The spoilt, invalid and unused ballot papers will be sorted and counted.
The polling agents are required to fill – in both figures and words – the declaration of results (DR) form and ther relevant forms.
Note: Refusal to fill in the DR form does not invalidate the election results, they will be announced regardless.
So there you have it. Now you know that the voting process will be like, so you have a couple of days left to prepare yourself accordingly.
Oh, one last thing . . .
You may want to know that there are offences related to disrupting the polling process.
They include: voting or attempting to vote more than once, destroying election materials, making wrong returns of an election by the presiding officer, obstruction of voters and forging or destroying a ballot paper.
So, stay on the right side of the law.
[The voter information in this article has been sourced from the Electoral Commission and is available on its website as well on the Uchaguzi platform, whose app you can get HERE (Android) or HERE (iOS)]
ORIGINAL ARTICAL BY The NewVision