This is a picture of voting at Lumakanda Township Primary School
during the 2013 Kenyan election. There are four voting violations,
some serious, in this picture alone. Photo by Joe Ossmann
Voting in Maryland for 2016 general election.
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Note: In the United States, each state develops its own voting procedures and conducts the polling in the state. This report is based on the polling procedures in Montgomery County, Maryland at the Montgomery Village Middle School polling station where I was an election judge.
Disclaimer: This report is based on one polling station in the State of Maryland. Maryland is a state predominately controlled by the Democratic Party. It has not tried to limit voting by various means that are often used in some states controlled by the Republican Party by placing obstacles to voting for the poor, African-Americans, Latinos, and immigrants.
I have been an election observer for the Kenyan December 2007 election (and witnessed the two months of post-election violence), the 2010 constitutional referendum, the 2013 election, and plan to continue for the August 2017 election. Therefore I thought I should have some comparative experience in the United States. I signed up to be an Election Judge in Montgomery County, Maryland for the November 8 election. Note that in Kenya I am only an observer since I am not a Kenyan citizen and voter, but in the US I am able to be an election official because I am citizen and registered voter in Maryland. Here are some of my observations:
- Similarity: In both Kenya and Montgomery County, the poll workers and observers need to arrive at 5:00 am and 6:00 am respectively. In Maryland, the polls close at 8:00 pm and the poll workers end their day about 9:30 pm. In Kenya, the polls close at 5:00 pm but the ballots need to be counted by hand which takes at least until 9:00 pm and as long as 2:00 am the next day. By the end of the day the poll workers are exhausted and thereby prone to make mistakes.
- Difference: In Maryland the poll workers must bring their own food, beverages, and snacks for the whole day. In Kenya the electoral commission provides the workers with lunch and dinner which adds an additional complication to the voting process.
- Difference: In Kenya when people line up, they stand close together, touching or almost touching the one in front. I noticed that in the United States, where I have read that people stand farther apart than anywhere else in the world, the distance between voters standing in line is more like two feet.
- Similarity: In both countries poll workers are paid. In Kenya it is $10 for the day and in Montgomery County it is $150 for the day. Given the difference of wages in the two countries these amounts are more or less equivalent.
- Difference: In Maryland I expect to be sent a check shortly after the election. In Kenya poll workers may or may not be paid until they organize a demonstration in front of the electoral commission offices to demand their payment.
- Difference: Election day in Kenya is a holiday. Election day in the United States is a normal working day except that schools are not in session since many of them are used as polling stations.
- Similarity: Any voters standing in line at the time the polls are closed are allowed to vote.
- Difference: Maryland allows anyone who wishes to vote by absentee ballot (meaning that they do not have to go to the polling station) which must be returned by mail postmarked by election day. There is no absentee voting in Kenya which means that the almost 10% of the adult Kenyan population who work out of the country are unable to vote unless they return to Kenya for the election.
- Difference: In Maryland there are early voting centers open to those who wish to vote early or are unable to be at their polling station on election day. More than 20% of the voters in Montgomery County including me voted early. In Kenya there is no early voting.
- Difference: In Maryland, the voting is counted electronically by the scanning machine that inserts the ballot into the voting box. The votes at the polling station level in Kenya are counted by hand. At the end of a long day, the tired election officials must spend many more hours counting the ballots.
- Similarity and difference: In both countries the tally of all the races must be posted on a door or window so that anyone can observe the actual result from that polling station. The difference is that in Kenya the national electoral commission does not post the results from each polling place on its webpage so no one can confirm if the numbers in the official count reflect the actual numbers from the polling station. This posting would be extremely easy to do as the national electoral commission has these figures. This result creates a big hole in the verification of election results leading to massive possibilities of fraud as the local polling station results can be manipulated without detection and the verification of the actual result at each polling station is thereby compromised.
- Difference: Enrollment of voters in the United States is an ongoing process that continues year round including options such as enrolling when applying for a driver’s license. In Kenya, enrollment of voters is only done for about a month long before the actual election. Moreover in Kenya the voter must have a Kenyan identification card which many people do not have and which are not that easy to obtain.
- Difference: In Kenya elections are once every five years. Therefore the system is mostly dismantled at the end of an election and restarted again about a year before the next election. By that time everyone has forgotten the system, there are substantial number of first time voters, and the election officials are mostly newcomers. In the United States there are elections every two years and the system runs without disruption. I have a two year appointment as an election judge.
- Difference: In the United States the primary elections for all political parties are conducted on the same day in each state with the electoral commission running the primary election in a non-partisan way. In Kenya, if the political parties have primary elections, the political parties run their own primary elections, usually resulting in chaos and manipulation by party insiders.
- Difference: For each election in Kenya the electoral commission buys new electronic voting gadgets that are not tested out before the election and therefore break down during the election itself. As a result the voting officials must resort to the old fashioned slow hand system. In Maryland I used the same voter identification machines that were purchased in 2002 and were extremely efficient in identifying voters. Nonetheless the other voting officials complained that one had to use a stylus to tap on the screen instead of a modern touch screen.
- Difference: At the polling station in Maryland there were no violations inside the polling station itself, including such simple things as turning off cell phones. All the election judges enforced the voting rules and followed the proper procedures. In Kenya, at Lumakanda Township Primary School voting station, there were numerous voting violations which even the Chief Voting Judge did not try to stop. In some cases where we had election observers we have seen bribing inside the polling station or outside in the line of voters, political party observers “helping” voters to fill out ballots, more than one ballot given to a voter, election officials marking ballots for voters, and other major election violations. No wonder Kenyans do not believe that their elections have validity. Moreover if you look at the picture at the Lumakanda polling station you can see how crowded it is so that voters are not going to believe that their vote is secret.
- Difference: In Kenya there is one election conducted throughout the whole country. This means that the candidate with the highest number of votes wins the election. Since voting in Kenya is based on tribalism, this favors candidates from the largest tribe(s). Therefore it is not surprising that three out of four Kenyan presidents have been from the largest tribe, the Kikuyu. In the United States there are essentially 51 separate elections held on the same day by each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The winner is chosen by the electoral college where each state is given a set number of votes. It takes 270 electoral votes to win. This means that a candidate that wins a state by a small number of votes gets the same number of electoral votes as if he or she had won by a large number of votes. As a result, elections are determined by the ten or so states that are considered the battleground states which tend to have close voting results. Under the Kenyan system, Hillary Clinton would have won the election because she had 200,000 (and counting) more votes than Donald Trump, but Trump obtained more electoral votes and was declared the winner.
Summary: The Maryland voting station was spacious, organized, efficient, assisted by automatic voter identification and electronic voting tabulation that could be verified if needed, and with trained and experienced election judges. In Kenya the polling station was crowded, inefficient, with machine malfunctions, a significant number of voting violations, cumbersome manual counting of votes after a long day, and poorly trained, inexperienced election officials.
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues with his peacemaking work in East Africa. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region