IEBC on the spot as Kiems kit hitches blight election

A polling clerk uses a Kiems kit to identify a voter.

An IEBC polling clerk uses a Kiems kit to identify a voter.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Sections of Kenyans who showed up early to vote in various polling stations across the country were forced to resort to identification via manual register after the elections technology failed to pick their fingerprints. Some voters faced delays before casting their ballots while others were turned away after the Kenya Integrated Elections Management Systems (Kiems) kits failed to pick their fingerprints.

Some, like Presidential candidate Prof George Wajackoyah, failed to vote after the elections technology kits failed to work. He left but later returned in the afternoon to cast his ballot at Indangalasia Primary School.

Separately, Kenya Kwanza Alliance presidential running mate Rigathi Gachagua finally voted at 7.39am after several attempts to be identified biometrically ran into some hitches as officials made a number of attempts through the Kenya Integrated Elections Management (Kiems) kit to identify him using his finger prints. However, while addressing the media after voting, Mr Gachagua said that despite the technical hitch he believes the exercise will be free, fair and transparent.

Some leaders like Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o asked IEBC to do away with the Kiems identification process and allow voters to be identified manually.  He said cases of people being turned away because they cannot be identified by the technology have been reported across the county.

Kisumu Governor Prof Anyang' Nyong'o voting election

Kisumu Governor Prof Anyang' Nyong'o and his wife Dorothy queue to vote at Ratta Primary School in Seme Constituency on August 9, 2022. 

Photo credit: Elizabeth Ojina | Nation Media Group

Following the reported hitches of Kiems kits in parts of the country, IEBC said it had authorised use of manual registers. However, in a press briefing at Bomas of Kenya on Monday afternoon, IEBC officials said they did not consider Kiems kit failures to be widespread. 

""On failure of kiems kits, we have received 200 failure reports out of a total of over 46,000. The failure is not widespread. Technology does break down and we have ways to address that which we have done. We expect that one or two may present a malfunction but that does not mean it is widespread," said IEBC commissioner Justus Nyang'aya.

The Nation, however, has compiled a list of instances where the technical hitches have been reported across the country, thus pointing towards a larger problem with the kits. 

Mt Kenya region

In central Kenya, voting started early and went on smoothly in most parts of the region. However, in some areas,  voters were turned away because they could not be identified biometrically.

The Nation learnt that several Nyeri residents failed to vote because they could not be identified in the biometric register. For instance, Mr Zachary Mugo, a resident of Othaya Constituency, was disappointed after the Kiems kit failed to read his fingerprints.

Mr Mugo, who works as a casual labourer on coffee and tea farms, said IEBC officials told him that his fingerprints had been made unreadable by years of plucking tea leaves. He was advised to go home and return to the polling station later in the day after cleaning and oiling his hands.

“But I don’t think I will be able to make it, because I waited in the voting queue from 4am and I still have my work to do,” he told the the Nation.

This was a recurrent problem for some residents of Othaya constituency, which has many coffee and tea farmers who use their thumbs and index fingers to harvest the crops.

Ms Hellen Nyawira, the presiding officer at the polling station, acknowledged the fingerprint hitch. She said that by 7.30am, IEBC officials had turned away two voters who were asked to lubricate their hands and return later.

In such cases, IEBC officials may be forced to rely on voters' identification documents and their manual registers.

“But first they will be required to sign a form that shows that they are registered in this polling station and were not identified by the Kiems kit,” she told the Nation.

At Nyaribo Primary School in Nyeri Town Constituency, network hitches disrupted voting. The Kiems kits were not reading voters’ fingerprints thus delaying voting. Only a handful of people had cast their ballots. The first person voted at 6.47am despite being on queues hours before that. 

Coast: Henna-stained fingers find problems

IEBC polling clerks in various polling stations in Lamu Old Town complained that Kiems kits failed to identify most Swahili women voters who have applied henna on their fingers. Officials had earlier asked those with henna on their fingers to remove it before voting day but a majority still turned up while having the decorations.

Lamu County Deputy Returning Officer Mohamed Ali says the henna ink makes it difficult for fingerprint recognition.

In Kwale’s Kinango Constituency, voters were not allowed into some polling stations after Kiems kits failed. Some polling stations in Kibo South and Kombani in Matuga Constituency and Kikoneni in Lungalunga constituencies respectively were also affected by the hitch.

Daniel Mutua, a voter at Kikoneni Primary School in Lungalunga, said he was yet to vote by 12pm despite showing up early. 

"Some of the voters have decided to go back home because they were here before 6am," said Mr Mutua.

Some elderly women in Kwale’s Kinango constituency were forced to use lemons and stones to clean their hands after Kiems kits failed to capture their fingerprints. 

Kwale IEBC Returning Officer Obadiah Kariuki said a team from the commission’s ICT department was working to rectify the challenge.

In Nyali, IEBC replaced the defective Kiems kit. Returning Officer John ole Taiswa said in polling stations where there were delays because of the technical hitch, voters would be compensated with additional time.

At the Maweni polling station in Nyali, a Kiems kit failed to work for around 30 minutes, causing delays.

Voting in most parts of Wundanyi Constituency in Taita Taveta County was delayed due to faulty Kiems kits and poor internet connectivity. IEBC elections manager Eisha Oshan confirmed the complaints and said the ICT department had intervened after they raised the issue.

“We received several complaints from our officers on the issue of poor connectivity and immediately raised it with the ICT department who worked on it without further delays,” she said.

In Kilifi, Kiems kits failed to work at the Isaack Nyondo polling station in Rabai Constituency.

At Dabaso Primary, where ODM governor candidate Gideon Munga'aro voted, one stream was delayed until 8.45am after Kiems kits failed.

Nairobi 

In Kamukunji, Nairobi County, voting at New Eastleigh Primary School was put on hold due to Kiems kit failures. 

Elderly struggle with Kiems 

Elsewhere in the country, the decision by IEBC to strictly adhere to use of Kiems to identify voters has subjected the elderly in some parts of the North Rift region to uncomfortable situations. Some were turned away after the kits failed to pick their fingerprints. 

The elderly who turned up in large numbers at various polling stations in Elgeyo Marakwet, Uasin Gishu and West Pokot counties to exercise their civic duty had to contend with rubbing their palms together first, rubbing their hands on rocks or warming them up over gas lamps to soften them.

At Turesia polling centre in Elgeyo Marakwet, the Nation encountered more than ten elderly women warming their hands over a lamp after the Kiems kit failed to recognise their fingerprints. Some had to repeatedly place their fingers on the kits over 10 times before they gave up.

“Some have tried several times to no avail. We have devised all means to ensure they vote and that’s why you are seeing them warming up their hands because they should exercise their democratic rights,” said Turesia polling station Presiding officer Mr Hillary Kosgei. He attributed the kits challenge to old-age and the nature of work that some of the elderly women engage in.

“When their hands are warm, the fingerprints become visible and the kits recognize them,” he said. 

Ms Kabon Kapkong, 80, was relieved to finally vote. 

“At last I voted despite almost burning my fingers (over a lamp). In the past, we only presented our national IDs without pressing on the device, which is uncomfortable for us,” she said after casting her vote. 

Another woman, Ms Tapsingoei Kibet, 90, tried a record 13 times before the kit finally recognised her fingerprints. 

“Maybe I am too old and my blood is little making my fingers numb and frail to a point of losing the identity,” she told poll officials who were desperately looking for a solution who even tried to scan her face to no avail. 

The Nation established that the manual register was being used alongside the Kiems kits in identifying voters.

Compared to their counterparts, the elderly men experienced fewer challenges when it came to Kiems kits verification. For instance, Mzee Kipkirui Rotich, 97, was verified with a single press on the kit. 

“I am happy to have voted and I will consider myself lucky to have voted for Kenya's five since independence,” he said. 

It was the same case in West Pokot County, where Beatrice Nasiebanda, 72 and Chepchemuse Munango, 82 said they got disillusioned due to the hitch.

"I have been told to wait and I hope I will get chance to cast my vote," Nasiebanda said.

“I must vote today. I am still here till evening,” she added.

Some casual workers in Kesses Constituency, Uasin Gishu County, also encountered the same challenge as their fingerprints could not be captured. They were turned away and could not vote.

Isiolo: high turnout marred by Kiems hitches

Moyale returning officer

Moyale constituency Returning Officer Jeffina Mauta (second left) accompanied by other IEBC officials during a press briefing at ACK Church Hall on August 9, 2022. He explained that they experienced hiccups with the KIEMS kits failure during the voting exercise.

Photo credit: Jacob Walter I Nation Media Group

In Isiolo County, while voting started smoothly with high turnout reported at most of the polling stations in Isiolo Central and Isiolo North, there were delays in fingerprint identification at some stations in Bullapesa and Wabera wards.

The Kiems hitches led to some voters opting to leave while others persevered and waited around to get a chance to vote.

Delays in Makueni

Voting delayed for more than five hours in multiple polling stations in Makueni County amid confusion on whether to resort to the use of the manual register after Kiems kits failed. A spot check by the Nation showed that more than 100 Kiems kits, mainly in Kibwezi West Constituency, had failed, triggering disgruntlement among voters.

At Kiambani Primary School, for instance, Kiems kits in 5 of the 7 polling stations had failed while in Emali Primary School, voting took place in only 2 of the 12 polling stations following a break down of the kits.

IEBC officials had difficult time reassuring voters who were running out of patience.

"We are waiting for direction from our bosses on whether to use the manual registers," said Solomon Ndambuki, a presiding officer at Kiambani Primary School, said.

In order to recover lost time, IEBC officials at the affected stations pledged to extend the voting period. 

In Moyale, Kiems hitches slowed voting with Returning Officer Jeffiner Mauta revealing that nine out of the 190 kits in the constituency failed to work.

“The voting exercise started smoothly at 6am in all polling stations in Moyale constituency without any notable incidents apart from the failure of a few Kiems kits which were quickly replaced by our technical staff,” Mr Mauta said.

IEBC technical officers reportedly moved with speed to replace the gadgets and ensure that the voting process did come to a halt.

A number of presiding officers said illiteracy was a major hiccup in Moyale  as a large number of residents had to be assisted in order to cast their ballots.

Report by Mercy Mwende, Fred Kibor, Barnabas Bii, Oscar Kakai, Waweru Wairimu, Pius Maundu, Mkamburi Mwawasi, Lucy Mkanyika, Siago Cece, Anthony Kitimo, Charles Ongandi, Steven Heywood, Maureen Ongala, Kalume Kazungu, Brian Ocharo, Jacob Walter  and Philip Muyanga.

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