On The Edge Of Their Ballots


Kenya is currently awaiting the results of its first election in years following voting on Monday. Traci Oshiro sets the scene:

The last time Kenya held elections in 2007, about 1,000 people were killed and thousands more injured. Violence has also marked this election with 19 killed this past Monday, attacks attributed to separatists. IEBC chairman Issack Hassan at a press conference called for people to “resist making early judgments about who has won,” and said final results would not be released for 48 hours. … A candidate must get 50% of votes cast plus one vote in order to win outright, in addition to at least 25% of votes in half of Kenya’s 47 counties. If no-one achieves that, the vote will go to a run-off, probably on 11 April.

Early results show Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta leading Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The International Criminal Court has charged Kenyatta with crimes against humanity for his role in the violence surrounding the 2007 election. Neha Paliwal highlights efforts to prevent a recurrence of that bloodshed:

In one of the most interesting monitoring initiatives surrounding the election, Uchaguzi, the electoral arm of the data visualization company Ushahidi, has used crowdsourced reports to collect information on irregularities happening around the country. Through Twitter, email, and a form on Uchaguzi’s website, Kenyans have submitted more than 4,456 messages from almost 1,700 locations. After going through an approval and verification process, these citizen-generated reports have helped paint a clearer picture of how the election really went.

Violence has been reported … in Nairobi, Nyeri, Kipsigak, Naivasha, and Mombasa, but most mishaps in the country seem to have stemmed from administrative failures and problems with new biometric voter registration machines that were meant to modernize the process.

Despite such problems, Duncan Onyango was inspired by how well the voting seemed to go:

We are in a crucial period right now and it is palpable. However, I – along with so many Kenyans – am hopeful that peace will endure. I say that because of how strikingly different this election feels compared with 2007. On Monday morning, I thought I’d be among the first to vote but there were others with a better idea – I understand that some people queued up at 3AM. Voter turnout estimates ranging from 70 to even 88 percent show that Kenyans were eager to exercise their democratic rights. Most importantly, it’s a clear sign that they’ve overcome the cynicism that followed the 2007 general elections. The queues were long but good-humored, a little disorganized at first (which caused significant frustrations at some polling stations) but things moved smoothly overall.

Meanwhile, Solomon A. Dersso worries about the number of rejected ballots that “could make a difference between winning and losing” and seemed related to confusion over the poorly differentiated color-coding of ballots and ballot boxes. Gregory Warner notes that voters with color blindness, as much as 4% of the population, were especially likely to have been disadvantaged. The number of rejected ballots has since dropped significantly, but Odinga’s campaign is now alleging that the results have been doctored. In 2007, Odinga made a similar claim that sparked the violence.

(Photo: Kenyan paramilitary soldiers stand guard outside of a polling station as ballot-counting continues on March 6, 2013 in Mathare slum, in Nairobi. By Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)