For three elections – the fresh presidential election on 26 October 2017 included – I have worked with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission as an electoral official, first as a Biometric Voter Registration clerk in the first ever electronic voter registration in 2012, and as a polling clerk in 2013 and 2017. In 2022, the third general election under IEBC and the seventh since the return of multiparty elections, I get to wear a different hat; that of the fourth estate. But in both, the mission remains the same, safeguarding the voice of Kenyans.
Journey with me as I pull a Jack Bauer on this election day.
Events occur in real-time.
0530 hrs: Kinoo, Muthiga, Regen massive!
Residents are already at matatu stages, headed to respective polling stations. Matatu operators eager as ever ‘sisi unatafuta tu,’ one tells me.
0606 hrs: Tupo site!
At Mama Ngina Kenyatta Primary School in Kinoo ward under Kikuyu constituency.
0615 hrs: I encounter an older man, 58 years old. I learn of his age and other details as he approaches me to assist him to check for his polling station. He is frustrated. He has been instructed to check for his voter details via SMS, sending his ID number and year of birth to 70000. Technology, he tells me, is not his forte.
The SMS lines are not working
0626 hrs: Voters are frustrated by the process of checking details on the register of voters plastered on walls outside of the polling station.
0639 hrs: Three more people have approached me, asking the same, ‘mtu anapataje jina yake?’
On the hunt to find the how!
0645 hrs: I approach the officers manning the stations. They tell me that stations are in the order of surnames, spread across the 13 stations.
0659 hrs: I have finally made it inside one of the polling stations. The presiding office has me write down my particulars, the name, ID, phone number, organisation and the time clocked in, in an IEBC log book.
0704 hrs: I have secured a spot next to agents from different political parties. A quick head count gets me a total of eight.
There are no other media personnel in the room.
0709 hrs: I engage in conversation with one of the agents, he is here representing the Jubilee party.
Since polls opened at 6am, he tells me, 15 people have voted.
So far, no incidents.
0712 hrs: An observer pulls to the side the presiding officer asking them to make it known to the voters the order in which names appear on the registers on the station so as to make voting easier and faster.
0723 hrs: A voter cannot be verified by the KIEMs kit. Clerk 1, handling the kit, asks the voter to wipe clean his fingers and give it another go.
0725 hrs: The P.O has joined clerk one. After several attempts, the system still does not pick the fingerprints of the voter.
P.O instructs clerk one to use the alphanumeric search, that involves inputting manually the details of the voter into the KIEMs kit and searching for the voter.
0727 hrs: Search has failed. They do not refer back to the manual register assigned to clerk two.
There are seven clerks in total.
Clerk 1 – KIEMS kit
Clerk 2 – Manual register and Member of National Assembly ballot paper booklet.
Clerk 3- Member of County Assembly and Woman Member of National Assembly ballot paper booklets.
Clerk 4- Senator ballot paper booklet.
Clerk 5-Governor ballot paper booklet.
Clerk 6- Seated adjacent to the ballot box, ensures that voters cast the ballots of the individual elective seats, in the right ballot boxes.
Clerk 7-Stands by the door and marks the fingers of those that have cast their votes, as they leave the polling station.
0729 hrs: Voter is asked if he had registered using the KIEMs kit. Voter seems confused. A little back and forth ensues.
Finally, the voter is dismissed. He walks out without having cast his vote.
0742 hrs: For close to a minute, a voter after being issued with the respective ballot papers, stands in waiting. The voter ahead has not finished marking the ballot papers.
The voting process, it seems, is tedious.
0746 hrs: Clocking out of the polling station.
Onto the next adventure!
0756 hrs: Boda bodas are on site ferrying voters to and from the polling centres. Hoping on one to find out how ‘business’ is going.
0805 hrs: I meet Kama, a boda boda operator. He and the wife vote at Mama Ngina Primary. Today, he is accompanied by his three year old daughter. He’s just cast his vote and is waiting for his wife to be done at the ballot. After which he will go back to work.
“Leo kuna biz. Unajua ukikaa kwa nyumba pesa nikutoka tu” he says.
Staying true to his entrepreneurial spirit, he offers to drop me off at my next station.
0830 hrs: At Kinoo vocational training centre.
Right opposite the station, I meet even more enterprising Kenyans. The chapo guy on the pans, the smokie guy ready to pasua one at the beck of the voters streaming in and out of the station.
I chance upon a small cafe where I meet Shiru who runs the cafe with her family. They have been open since 5am. Serving IEBC officials, police officers and voters on site. She has not voted yet but plans to in the course of the day. She and her other family members will take turns going to vote as they cannot afford to close shop.
0915 hrs: Unlike the previous station, there seems to be some semblance of order at KVCT.
Polling stations have handwritten posters indicating the order of the register. Contrary to what I had been told at the Mama Ngina, names are in alphabetical order.
There are also notices on the wall of what the ballot papers of the respective positions look like.
The centre has eight polling stations.
1000 hrs: At HGM Kinoo Primary School.
The first polling centre where I have encountered fellow journalists.
There are five polling stations at the centre.
At HGM, I finally get to verify ‘the how’.
Polling centres are split into polling stations from where voters cast their votes. The register of voters are in alphabetical order.
Names of voters whose first names start with letter A belong to station one.
However, the enumeration of names on the list records the surname first followed by the second name.
For example, Alice Betty White, would be placed in station one since her first name starts with the letter A. But on the register, her name would read White Alice Betty.
1046 hrs: Uthiru Centre polling station in Dagoretti South Constituency.
The parking lot of En-Tumo restaurant in Uthiru has been converted into a makeshift polling centre. Individual tents have been erected across the lot to host the 6 polling stations.
The restaurant has been closed since Monday 8 August to reopen on Thursday 11 August.
At the gate, a woman is complaining of having been transferred to a different polling centre. She walks away angry.
Inside the centre I make friends with an Administration Police stationed at the centre. From him I learn of the happenings of the centre, including their struggles to access lavatories. He tells me he has not slept since Monday 8 August when they picked up the balloting materials from the constituency tallying centres. The open tents are also not the best of places to catch a wink.
His tales remind me of my time at the polling station. We had to sleep on desks and in sleeping bags. The security teams, however, are never lucky. They have to keep watch.
1130 hrs: It’s a wrap! Taking a break to regroup.
But as I walk out of the centre, I spot an open liquor store across the road with a few patrons, despite consensus around the country to close bars and liquor shops.
The drinking nation!
The 11th Hour finds a colleague and I at Kilimani Primary in Dagoretti North Constituency.
Long winding queues. And more people streaming in through the gate. From the look of things, voting will go on past closing time.
There are lots of younger people in the queues. And most are moving in groups.
We get a chance to speak to an IEBC official. Afternoon has been busier than the morning period. Voters have come in droves. Young people making the bulk of the numbers.