How henna decorations inconvenienced female voters in Lamu

One of the voters with henna decorations has her details alphanumerically searched at the Lamu Fort Polling station in Lamu County after the Kiems kit failed to detect her fingerprints.

Photo credit: Kalume Kazungu I Nation

Electoral agency clerks at several polling stations on Lamu Island had to use alphanumerical searches on Tuesday to identify most women voters with henna decorations on their fingers.

Henna is a decorative paste applied on the tips of fingers and covers nails and the centre of the palm. The art is practised by mostly Swahili and Somali women.

Clerks of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) complained that the Kiems gadgets had failed to identify such voters.

During voter education drives a few weeks ago, IEBC officials had advised voters with henna paintings on their fingers to remove them before voting day.

But a majority of voters still turned up with henna decorations.

Lamu Deputy Presiding Officer Mohamed Ali noted that henna interferes with human fingerprints, making them harder to be recognised or read electronically.

“Despite our earlier communication, many women voters have still shown up to the polling stations with henna decorations,” Mr Ali said. 

“This has forced our clerks to use the alphanumerical identification mechanism, including taking a photo of the voter plus their ID cards and sending them for recognition before they are identified and allowed to vote.”

Fatma Omar, one of the affected voters at the Lamu Fort polling station, said she forgot to remove the henna and felt that she had no other option except to go to the station and try her luck.

“It’s not easy to remove the henna. It takes time. I tried to remove it by applying some chemicals but my fingers are still decorated. The clerks used other means to identify me and allowed me to vote,” Ms Omar said.

Similar incidents were recorded at the Lamu County Assembly Hall polling station.

Ms Khadija Alwy also showed up with henna on her hands and it was difficult to capture her fingerprints.

“I tried several times but the Kiems kit couldn’t detect anything. I had to rub my fingers several times before the fingerprints were detected and I was able to vote. I wasn’t aware that henna could cause inconveniences like those I have witnessed today,” said Ms Alwy.

Meanwhile, the IEBC on Tuesday deployed an extra chopper to Lamu East sub-county to help ferry election materials and staff to polling stations in terror-prone areas.

Lamu County IEBC Manager Maro Ade said earlier that the commission had deployed one chopper, which was smaller and ineffective in transporting election materials.

“This morning, we deployed a second chopper, which is bigger. It helped to ferry the materials and clerks to the required destinations on time. That’s why most polling stations in Lamu East sub-county opened at 6 am,” he said.

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