Dead voters and other ways to steal a Kenyan election

2 min 48Approximate reading time

Elections in Kenya are a fraught business, with polls beset with claims of rigging and intimidation, some subtle, some not, and this year's vote on August 8 is no different.

A decade after a disputed election led to the country's worst electoral violence with over 1,100 killed, fear of irregularities is growing.

"In Kenya, people say the dead come back to vote, and then return to their graves," said George Morara, chairman of the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).

The fraudulent inclusion of the deceased on the voters' register is just one way to cheat your way to victory in Kenya.


- Chase, scare, buy -


Recent months' violence which has displaced citizens in Laikipia and Baringo counties has worried observers who fear ostensible banditry and land struggles as masking efforts to push people from their place of registration.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch in early July documented incidents of intimidation in the Naivasha region, a hotspot of violence in 2007-08.

Another strategy is to "rent" voters' identity cards during elections, essentially paying someone not to turn out. "When you have someone's ID, this is the guarantee he will not be able to vote," said Morara, adding that some in Kenya will sell their ID and therefore their vote for 1,000 shillings ($10; 8 euros).


- Gerrymandering -


Kenya's electoral law allows voters to choose where they register, opening up the possibility of manipulating the polls by bussing in supporters to stack the odds in a particular constituency.

"In some constituencies, we notice that the registration levels are higher than normal," said Kelly Lusuli of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC). "We fear that some are paying others to come and register in a constituency in which they don't live so as to favour a candidate."


- Dodgy technology -


In 2013, Kenya introduced an electronic system that included biometric voter registration intended to ensure only those registered could vote. 

It also provided for the electronic transmission of results from polling stations across the country to the national tally centre in the capital, reducing opportunities for tampering with result sheets en route.

But technology is neither fool-proof nor tamper-resistant with hackers able to modify results or render the entire system unuseable.

But simpler still, said Nic Cheeseman, a professor at Birmingham University and a Kenya expert, is finding a way not to use the electronic system.

"The head of the polling station can certainly find an excuse not to use the biometric kit, he could say it is dysfunctional or that its battery is empty," he said.

That happened in multiple cases in 2013 even before a major technical failure meant the election commission abandoned the electronic system altogether, reverting to manual tallying.


- Even the dead can vote -


With the electronic system out of commission, several illegal avenues open up to stuff ballot boxes.

Party loyalists can be tasked with casting ballots on behalf of the deceased whose names are still on the voters' register.

An audit of the current, new electoral register, by accounting firm KPMG, estimated there are over a million dead voters.

The last elections were close, with President Uhuru Kenyatta winning by a margin of less than that: around 800,000.

"It is also possible to cast a ballot for the people who did not show up to vote," said an African diplomat on condition of anonymity. "You wait until the end of the day, you look at the results of other polling stations and you adjust with subtlety depending on how many votes you need."

Observers say that in the past a still less sophisticated method was to stuff boxes with pre-ticked ballots, with little effort made to disguise the fraud. In recent weeks the opposition has accused the electoral commission of printing many more ballot papers than necessary.


- Strongholds -


The elections will be monitored by thousands of observers, local and foreign, but they cannot be present in each of the country's nearly 41,000 polling stations. "In the strongholds, there are polling stations where all the agents are in favour of a candidate or a party," said Lusuli.

As for the agents sent by the adverse parties to watch the elections in these bastions, they can be bought to be silent or intimidated. In 2013, Lusuli said, the turnout was over 100 percent in some areas.

"You don't cancel an election just like that. Courts have to be convinced that the will of the people has been outweighed by the irregularities," Lusuli said.