Kenya’s Election: Legitimate or not?

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry led an observer mission with the Carter Centre along with a number of other observation groups that verified last month’s Kenyan election. The number of electoral missteps and clear violations of Kenyan law did nothing to deter the international observer’s opinion that the election was legitimate. John Kerry, repeatedly pressed on his affirmation of the election after the Kenyan Supreme Court ruled the election null, remained steadfast in his position that every vote had ‘integrity.’ Kerry bolstered his stance, telling the opposition in an interview to, ‘get over it and move on.’ Kerry’s statements, the Carter Centre’s backing, and the similar message from other international observers are examples of wilful negligence to save face. The United States and the European Union — the other largest observer group — gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Kenya in the past decade; they specifically created a $24 Million fund to ensure the digital component of this election would be successful. Admitting that the election failed would also admit a waste of taxpayer money in Europe and in the United States. For Kerry, admitting illegitimacy would also discredit him personally, as he worked closely with Kenya’s government during his time as Secretary of State. His work with President Uhuru Kenyatta implied credibility to Kenyatta’s government, which is difficult to establish in the face of the wrong doing in this election. One needs only review the election day mishaps, illegal vote counting activity, and the murder of a high ranking official to recognize Kenya’s election as invalid.

Image courtesy of U.S. State Department via Flickr,  © 2016, some rights reserved.
Image courtesy of U.S. State Department via Flickr, © 2016, some rights reserved.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry and President Uhuru Kenyatta at the State House in Nairobi

The first issue began before the ballots were even cast. Earlier in the year, the government created a back–up voter identification system for instances where the electronic system fails. The creation of the second system implies a lack of confidence in the electronic equipment on behalf of the government. The system is also one without much specificity; it will revert to paper means for identification, but IEBC officials claimed no need to comment on what the exact process entails. This voting process, which is not known to the public, was used in some parts of the country at the discretion of government officials. This system would easily allow pro-government polling officials to transition to the less secure paper certification system. From there they could more easily certify voters who did not show up to vote, filling in their ballots for Kenyatta. This issue is compounded by the KPMG report highlighting one million registered voters in Kenya who are deceased. Their votes could easily be falsified without the digital certification system. Beyond this, those departed from Earth have no means of registering to vote and their doing so draws major scepticism on the Kenya registration and certification process.

The next round of issues arose during the vote counting and result transmission processes. After a polling station closed, election officials counted the physical ballots. Campaign representatives from each side were entitled by law to watch the counting process if they wished. The total number of votes for each candidate was to be recorded onto a 34A form. This form was then to be signed by multiple election officials from the polling station. From there, the tallied results were entered into an electronic system that compiled the results and broadcast them on the IEBC website. A scan or image of the 34A form was also to be uploaded through the system. Ideally, the public and the political parties could monitor the voting results and the forms from the IEBC website. Meanwhile, the physical 34A forms at local polling locations, of which there where over 40,000, were collected and brought to a constituency office. There, the official in charge of the larger region would tally the 34A results on a form 34B, which would also be uploaded into the digital reporting system. The most glaring and general possibility for tampering with votes is that the electronic system could be hacked. This alone would not change the actual election result, but simply create a disparity between what the public sees as the tally and what will actually be recorded in the physical 34A/B forms. This concern does not remain specific to Kenya; nations that digitize their voting systems open themselves up to the vulnerability of hacking as well as a loss of transparency in the system. Additionally, there was no back up digital means of reporting results or, apparently, a clear instruction on acceptable protocol for trusted forms of transferring voter information. When the electronic transmission system stopped working, some poll workers texted the results to the IEBC headquarters where they were accepted and tallied without verification of a 34A or 34B form. Texting results to headquarters directly bypasses both the paper trail and regional counting systems and allows the messenger to manipulate the numbers with no documented proof. The recipient of the message at the IEBC could manipulate their vote if they wished.

Beyond the system itself being riddled with vulnerable points for manipulation, other irregularities discredit the vote. Opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, filed a successful lawsuit to have the vote annulled based on claims that the voting system was hacked before and after the election, that there were blank ballots, and that votes were collected from non-existent polling locations. The Kenyan Supreme Court’s decision verified these claims and asserted that five million votes were not verifiable. In the weeks leading up to the election, the election official in charge of the electronic reporting system was found dead with an arm lopped off. His death did further decreases the credibility of the voting process, especially after Nairobi police reported it the likely result of a love triangle and unrelated to the upcoming vote. Steeping the election into further illegitimacy were the hundreds of small discrepancies in vote tallies across the nation and multiple instances of Odinga poll observers being removed from the polling location while votes were tallied.

From the general plan of the election to the issue with voter registration through violations on voting day, it seems unlikely that any observer without his or her own agenda would call last month’s Kenyan election legitimate. Secretary Kerry’s steadfast assurance in the credibility of the vote is affront to the democratic values he purports to represent as an international election monitor. The situation is made worse by the U.S. media’s blind endorsement of Kerry’s position. The New York Times, CNN, and Newsweek all presented articles and editorials that supported Kerry’s stance and pivoted to focus on the possible violence that could occur if the election was not verified. The New York Times implied that Odinga’s opposition to the results were unfounded and that John Kerry was standing as a voice of reason above tribal violence, going so far as to condemn Odinga’s opposition to the results as an attempt to, ‘fan the embers of ethnic strife.’ John Kerry should take advice from his own comments to Odinga; losing an election can be difficult, especially when your credibility is on the line, but sometimes — especially when the facts are so blatant — you need to, ‘get over it and move on.’

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