Failed biometric machines, broken ballot boxes mar start of voting in Uganda

Agents of various candidates are briefed before voting starts at Nsasa polling station in Kira, Wakiso District

Agents of various candidates are briefed before voting starts at Nsasa polling station in Kira, Wakiso District.

Ugandans on Thursday turned out in big numbers at polling stations all over the country to choose their next president and parliamentary representatives for the next five years.

However, many polling stations in Kampala and metropolitan areas experienced glitches as polling material arrived late.

Our reporter at Kyengombe park yard polling station in Rubaga South said by 7.30am, no polling agent had arrived but the voters were still waiting.

At Lugala Namungona Kigobe polling station, voters had already come in big numbers by 7am but polling material had not arrived yet.

Fatuma Nakawunga, a polling assistant at the polling station, said that the Electoral Commission (EC) had assured them that polling material would be available as early as 6am but they were also not sure what was happening.

Voters said the same incident happened in the 2016 general election.

New polling stations cause confusion

In Makindye division, there was confusion after some voters failed to locate where to vote from. Many had not picked their voter location slips and therefore did not know where to vote from. The slips indicate where one is assigned to vote.

In Kiyembe Zone, Makindye West A, Kasimu Wasswa the chairman of Kiyembe Zone, blamed the EC for not educating the public on the voter location slips. He added that some of the people who picked them were are unable to read.

“It’s an EC mistake, they shifted people who are from this polling station to other areas, they were transferred to other zones same parish, so some people are confused. Some got them but they do not know how to read,” Mr Wasswa said.

“People are confused as to where they are supposed to vote; new polling stations were put because where there were some previous 2016 polling stations, there are buildings now. Polling stations have changed,” one of the voters said.

He added that “The other mistake EC did was that they just brought them [slips] and put them where everyone was picking” and that it was a disorganised process. 

Biometric machines fail to work

At some polling stations in Gayaza, no voting had started by 9am because the biometric machines had failed to work.

And in other stations, material arrived after 8:30am.

Lydia Ainomugisha, our field reporter monitoring events in the area, said many people had gathered at the polling stations as early as 6am but many had been disappointed.

“I have visited many polling stations here in Gayaza and up to now voting hasn’t started. Many people have even started walking away while those on the ground are shouting at them not to leave and wait to vote,” she said.

Others, she said, formed groups and talked in hushed tones, and there seemed to be general frustration because of the delay in voting.

However, at 9:55am, polling stations eventually opened and voters started casting their votes. 

Broken seals, half ballot boxes

In Kira Municipality, Gabriel Buule reports that people refused to vote because ballot papers were delivered with broken seals.

At the Kireku Railway polling station, polling material had broken seals and some of the ballot boxes were half empty.

Voters have refused to cast their votes and are demanding that sealed ballots must be delivered.

“Right now voters are here at Kireku polling station, but they have refused to vote. They are demanding new ballot papers that are sealed. The situation is still calm, but everyone here is annoyed,” Mr Buule said.

At the St James Church of Uganda polling station, biometric machines to failed to work, delaying voting by more than one hour.

Mr Buule also reports that there is no observance of the standard operating procedures (SOPs), that is, no hand sanitisers present and no social distancing, even after the EC budgeted up to Shs60billion for sanitisers.

Wandegeya voters pass tough resolution against elders

Youthful voters in Wandegeya, Kampala have passed a tough resolution, barring elders from casting votes without lining up. The decision came after youths queued while elders were passing directly to cast votes.

Our reporter Shamim Nateebwa who witnessed the passing of the resolution said the youth have instituted a system where 10 youths would cast their votes and allow five elders or pregnant women vote before another lot of 10 youths also vote.

“We are no longer giving sympathy to the elders and pregnant women. It is now 10 youths vote and then we allow five elders or pregnant women to vote,” one youth was heard saying.

Another one said: “We have been respecting these elders and women, but when they go there, they vote for candidates who make us suffer and they don’t think about our future. Today we have respected them enough but we shall not sympathise with them. We have to vote people who have this country at heart because soon the elders will die with their choices and leave us to suffer alone”.

By 9am, voting had not started in several polling stations like Wandegeya and other parts of Kawempe Division.

Witnesses unavailable

Outside Kampala, in the western district of Bunyangabu, some polling stations had not opened by 9am because voters had not shown up to witness the opening of the ballot material. The district has 92,440 voters and 184 polling stations.

According to our reporter on ground, Alex Ashaba, at Buheesi and Brain Bridge polling stations, no one showed up to witness the opening of the voting material and therefore the officials were stuck.

Everest Twinomujuni, the District Returning Officer, said they could not open the material without witnesses.

“We need a minimum of 10 voters, but up to now some polling stations have not registered any single voters so we cannot open,” he said.

Goretti Kabagaya, the returning officer at Brain Bridge polling, said out of 275 voters, not a single voter had showed up by 8:30am.

“Here, voting has not started because there are no people at the polling stations to open the materials. The materials were in time, but people were not there to open them so we are still waiting,” she said.

At Ruboni SS polling station, voting started early, with more than 40 people lining up in time. The situation was calm and only one police constable was deployed to guard the area.

In Fort Portal City, while the situation has been peaceful, there is heavy deployment of security forces. Scovia Atuhaire reports that a combined force of police and the army has been deployed at Kisenyi Ward in Fort Portal City.

“Here at Kisenyi, people are voting, the situation is calm, but there is heavy deployment of soldiers. Police is also moving around with their patrol cars, I think to monitor the situation,” Atuhaire said.

Today’s election has 11 presidential candidates. They include the incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni (NRM), Robert Kyagulanyi (NUP), Patrick Amuriat (FDC), Mugisha Muntu (ANT) Norbert Mao (DP), Henry Tumukunde (IND) Willy Mayambala (IND), Nancy Kalembe (IND), John Katumba (IND), John Kabuleta (IND) and Fred Mwesigye (IND).

More than 18 million voters are expected to participate in the election. There a total of 34,684 polling stations across the country’s 146 districts.