/ 14 July 2017

Kenyan poll haunted by the ghosts of voters passed

Body count: A woman votes in 2013. An audit firm says dead people are on the August elections register.
Body count: A woman votes in 2013. An audit firm says dead people are on the August elections register.

More than a million dead Kenyans are registered as voters, according to KPMG. The audit firm discovered the discrepancy when it was finalising the voters’ roll for the presidential election on August 8.

Since 2012, just 11 104 voters who have died have been erased from the register, KPMG found. Of these, only 30 had been expunged since 2013. These figures suggest that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has been lax about updating the voters’ roll.

KPMG has been able to identify 92 277 of those who had died and has recommended that they be removed from the voters’ roll ahead of the elections.

But this figure has been questioned by the IEBC: the names provided by KPMG include seven people who are not only alive, but are registered candidates in the elections.

For the National Super Alliance, the opposition coalition which has long accused the IEBC of bias in favour of the ruling party, these ghost voters are fatal to the integrity of the election.

“The IEBC had colluded with the Civil Registration Services (CRS), the government body that registers all deaths in the country, to maintain the dead persons in the register in an attempt to rig the polls,” said National Super Alliance co-principal Musalia Mudavadi. “It is the transparency of this register that will determine whether the elections will be free and fair — and its credibility too.”

Mudavadi accused the IEBC of deliberately failing to clean up the register, pointing out that it kept quiet when confronted with a proposal to expunge the dead voters. Instead, it passed the buck to other state agencies.

IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati said the voters’ roll was final: “There will be no further changes in the current register as we are trying to deal with the rigid timelines.”

Chebukati said there would always be deceased voters on the roll because people die in the run-up to elections. “People die every day, and some will die hours [before] the elections. However, with the current technology no dead voter will vote as they do not have the biometrics,” he added.

Removing dead voters from the roll is more complicated than it sounds.

“Most deaths are not registered, whereas many of them are eligible voters. The IEBC does not have the capacity to identify every dead voter in its register,” said Masese Kemuncha, chairperson of the Centre for Enhancing Democracy and Good Governance.

It doesn’t help, said Kemuncha, that many deaths go unrecorded, especially in Muslim areas, where the deceased are usually buried within hours of death.

This is not the only scandal to hit the IEBC. Last week, a court ruled that the tender for the printing of ballot papers was illegally awarded to a Dubai-based company, and ordered that the contract be cancelled. The IEBC has less than a month to organise a new tender process, sign a contract and have the ballots ready on time.

Kenya’s election, which includes legislative and presidential votes, is shaping up to be a tightly fought battle between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his new Jubilee Party on one side, and perennial opposition leader and National Super Alliance presidential candidate Raila Odinga on the other.

Pre-election violence has raised fears of a repeat of the 2007-2008 post-election violence, which left more than 1 000 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands more.