Lumakanda polling stations at 8:00 am. Note the long line which snakes around until the white sign on the upper right. It has rained a good deal the night before so the ground was quite muddy.

Patience, patience, patience.

This morning I visited five polling stations: (1) Lumakanda, 4 streams of voters with maximum of 700 each, (2) Turbo, Uasin Gishu county, 3 streams, (3) Turbo, Kakamega county, 1 stream, (4) Bandari, 2 streams, and (5) Munyuki, 3 streams.

The Lumakanda polling station was at the primary school. I arrived shortly before 8:00 am – the polls had opened at 6:00 am, on time people told me. The lines were the longest I have ever seen in Lumakanda. I counted one line which had at least 178 people waiting. This implies that there were about 700 people waiting in line to vote. I saw one of my neighbors in that line and asked him when he arrived. He told me 5:15 am so he had already been waiting three hours and was not near the door. Further back I saw a member of Lumakanda Friends Church who told me he arrived at 6:00 am. When I revisited this polling station again at 11:00 am, he had still not voted and estimated that it would take another hour. Therefore it took him six hours of waiting in line to vote. Yet he was not discouraged. He said, “This is our day. We want change.” Note that Lumakanda is an opposition NASA stronghold – in my walking around town looking at campaign posters, I could hardly find any for Jubilee candidates.

I then decided to calculate how long it took a person to vote. I determining the time it took from one person to the next to enter the polling room. I estimated that it took longer than 2 minutes. This means that only 30 people would vote in an hour. This rate was confirmed at another polling station where the presiding officer told me that they had processed 110 voters in four hours. At this rate it would take more than 23 hours to process 700 voters. Since there will be less than 700 actual voters, if 500 voters come to vote, it will take 17 hours. The polls are open only for 11 hours, although anyone standing in line at 5:00 pm when the polls close will be allowed to vote.

Will the polling stations be able to accommodate all the voters? Will some people be discouraged from the long wait and return home without voting? What astounded me the most was that the issue that made the voting so slow was so easy to solve. Each polling station I went in to had only two voting booths so that only two voters could be marking their ballots at any one time. Since the voting “booths” were only three-sided cardboard boxes, it would not have cost much more to have each polling station with at least 5 voting booths. Previous years had 3 voting booths. In the US where I was an election judge, the polling center had 25 voting booths. I can’t imagine how the IEBC could not have noticed and rectified this shortcoming.

Bandari polling station at 10:00 am with only 13 people waiting in line to vote.

The other polling stations except one also had long lines, from 75 to 100 expectant voters. The exception was Bandari which had only 13 voters in line. Nonetheless I asked the people next in line to vote how long they had been there and they replied, “Since 6:00 am.” Since it was now after 10:00 am they had waited four hours. After I visited all the polling stations, I decided to return to Lumakanda to assess the progress there in shortening the lines. No change. The lines were as long as before. I’ll return there before closing to assess the outcome.

The IEBC had announced a few days before the election that no one would be allowed to remain (“loiter”) within 400 meters of the polling station. This is four tens of a kilometer or a quarter mile. This would have covered most of the town of Lumakanda! This was totally ignored. In Lumakanda and Munyuki there were lots of people standing around even within the school compounds where the voting was taking place. Each polling stream had two security personnel, but one usually was at the front of the line and the other either inside or outside of the voting room. None was available to enforce the 400 meter restriction so it was essentially moot.

On the positive side, the gadgets that verified the voter with their fingerprint seemed to be working well. Moreover in each polling room I visited, unlike in previous elections I have observed, it was arranged properly. Only a few voters were allowed in the room at any one time, there was no line up at the voting booth so that others in line behind could see how the voter marked his/her ballot, the agents for the various candidates (and there were at least ten in every room I visited) were seated on the side as they were supposed to be and not interacting with the voters as I had observed in the past. The flow was excellent.

A picture of a polling station in Eldoret where, like most of Kenya, the election is fiercely competitive for all six positions on the ballot.

Voters waiting at the polling station as the sun rises early in the morning.

The Kenya media reports the same as I have observed above. People arrived early in Nairobi even at 12 midnight to wait to vote. Lines were extremely long – one in Nairobi was 3 kilometers (2 miles) long and remember that African stand very close to each other compared to Americans.

The fact that so many people would wake up so early to vote and be willing to wait for hours and hours plus the large number of candidates and their involved agents at every one of the 40,833 polling stations indicates how passionate Kenyans are about their elections.

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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 his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David 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.

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David Zarembka

Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)

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Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/

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