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democracy in action: Kenya’s election, part two


Monday was a long, exciting, exhausting, and eye-opening day. Voters old and young, across many demographic groups, came out en masse to make their voices heard through the ballot box.



This election was the most complex in Kenya’s history. One of the provisions of Kenya’s new constitution, passed in 2010, is the decentralization of power to 47 newly created counties. As a result, in addition to voting for president and member of parliament, Kenyans cast ballots for governors, senators, and county assemblymen. Furthermore, to increase female participation in government, a new position of female representative was created.


In the previous election, Kenyans only voted for three elective seats. Voters scrutinized the six new ballots, which in addition to the candidates’ names and their party affiliation also included their pictures and party symbols.


Some voters cast their ballots on their own, using cardboard polling booths for privacy.



Illiteracy rates in some parts of Kenya are high, so many voters required assistance. They could either bring another voter to help them fill out the ballots or they could request assistance from the presiding officers. If an election official helped fill out the ballot, agents from various political parties observed the process to make sure that the will of the voter was accurately reflected on the ballot.


Party agents straining to hear the conversation between the presiding officer and a voter. Another voter patiently awaits his turn.


Some of the voters needed assistance not just to mark their ballots but also to cast them. This voter’s hands shook so much that he had a difficult time placing the ballot inside the ballot box slot.


Each of the six ballots was color-coded to match the different colored ballot boxes. Even so, some voters would have cast their ballots in the wrong ballot box – thereby nullifying their votes – if not for the vigilance and assistance of the polling clerks.


To ensure that no one voted twice, election officials used indelible ink to mark the hands of those who had cast their ballots.


By law, anyone in line to vote by 5pm was entitled to cast his/her ballot. There were still hundreds of people at this polling station when D visited it between 8-8:30pm.


People returned to the rural polling stations to watch the vote count. The young men outside the room were indifferent to who would be elected president; they said that all they cared about was who would be the local county council leader.


Before counting the ballots, the presiding officers conferred with polling clerks, observers, and agents from the political parties to ensure that there was consensus on what constituted a valid vote and which votes must be rejected.


The presiding officers or their deputies would hold up each ballot, making sure that it had been properly stamped with the insignia of the electoral commission. The party agents and polling clerks agreed on who the vote should go to before each ballot was counted.


After counting the results, officials at each polling station transported the ballot boxes and their official tallies, signed by the political party agents, to the constituency tallying centers.


Official results were slow in coming, but word had gotten out from party agents as to who would be the likely winners in the local races, prompting celebrations in the streets.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. shounakb #

    Reblogged this on Shlogging Around the World and commented:
    Not too often do you really see the roots of Democracy take place. I thought this was a great insight into the current elections taking place in Kenya.

    March 9, 2013
    • It was great to be a part of it, and it was even better to see things work the way they were meant to.

      March 9, 2013
  2. Thank you for sharing the details and photographs of the rural election process in Kenya. These are great reminders not take our rights and responsibilities to vote for granted in the U.S.

    March 10, 2013
    • Thanks Lissa, and we frequently compare the electoral missteps in our own country (Florida, for example) when discussing elections here.

      March 10, 2013
  3. Fantastic photos, and so heartening. We were on a British Aid project in Kenya through most of ’90s and saw something of the struggle for multiparty democracy. Things were a little scary back then. Brilliant peoples, brilliant country: let’s hope everyone there can move forward now.

    March 11, 2013
    • Thanks Tish! We serve with a number of people who’ve returned to Kenya after serving here a decade or even longer ago, and everyone seems optimistic about the direction in which the country is heading.

      March 11, 2013
  4. Jess #

    I’ve been reading your blog on and off because of my interest in Africa. I found myself reading media coverage of the Kenya elections specifically with a new interest and I told myself I would double-check their authenticity on your blog! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience of this important matter with those of us stuck in the US!

    March 24, 2013
    • Thanks, the Kenyan media coverage has actually been pretty good. The Western media…not so much – CNN, in particular, ran a horrendous sensationalist piece right before the election…probably not too surprising given CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville rape case.

      March 24, 2013

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