On March 4th Kenyans went to the polls to elect the country’s 4th president, among other officials. Most polling stations opened on time at 6 AM. Some, however, opened late due to late arrival of voting materials or the failure of the biometric voter registration (BVR) kits that were used to identify voters before they cast their ballots. It was the first time that Kenya had implemented an electronic voter register, the previous manual register having had hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ghost voters. It was also the first election following the enactment of a new constitution in 2010, which doubled the number of elective contests in the general election. With the botched 2007 general election still fresh on everyone’s mind, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was keen on guarding the credibility of the process. The actual voting went relatively well. Besides a night attack on the eve of the election by a separatist group in the former Coast Province, there were no major incidents. Most polling stations closed at 5 PM and those that opened late were allowed to extend voting until 10 PM.
The tallying exercise began on Monday night. Priority was given to the presidential race, with the electoral commission promising final results within 48 hours. But this was not to be. A few hours into the tallying process the dedicated virtual private network (VPN) used to relay the results from the 33,000 polling stations to the national tallying centre in Nairobi crashed. More than 36 hours after polls closed, only 42% of the votes cast had been counted.
Two days after the polls closed it emerged that the electronic tallying system had a software bug that kept multiplying the number of rejected ballots by a factor of eight. At one point rejected ballots amounted to 6% of the total votes cast, generating nervousness among election watchers over the credibility and legitimacy of the eventual outcome. A correction of the error saw the number of rejected ballots drop to just under 1% of the total votes cast.
Late on the second day of counting the IEBC abandoned the electronic tallying system and resorted to manual verification and tallying of the presidential election results from the country’s 290 constituencies (the other elections mostly reported results on time). This process only ended in the wee hours of Saturday morning. In the end Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta emerged victorious, defeating veteran politician Raila Odinga by 6.2 to 5.3 million votes (50.07% to 43.6%) thus avoiding a runoff. At almost 86%, the election experienced the highest ever turnout rate of registered voters in Kenya’s history.
The results were nowhere near what the polls had predicted a week to the election. Most opinion polls showed the race as close, with Mr. Odinga leading by two percentage points. My own pre-election analysis several weeks before the election warned against belief in the national polls as they were over-estimating Mr. Odinga’s support. The outcome of the election showed that even I had underestimated the extent to which the national polls had over-estimated Mr. Odinga’s popularity. The polls’ biggest error was to base their results on interviews of registered voters, as opposed to likely voters. As I argued then, Mr. Kenyatta’s supporters were more likely to register higher turnout rates that Mr. Odinga’s.