IEBC returning officer admits error in reported governor results

Kwale Governor Fatuma Achani  speaks after she won the Kwale County gubernatorial race on August 12, 2022. An election official has there were errors in the poll results, however, they were minimal and did not affect the final results that showed Ms Achani won.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

An official of the electoral agency has admitted that there were errors in results reported at some polling stations in Kwale County but claimed they were minimal and did not affect the final results that showed Ms Fatuma Achani won the governor poll.

The High Court heard that the total number of valid votes cast at some polling stations exceeded the number of registered voters.

“It is a human error. Yes, there were some problems,” said Mwaruwa Chikophe, the returning officer for Matuga constituency.

Mr Chikophe also told Justice Francis Gikonyo that form 37A for one of the polling stations disappeared but was found in the bag of a presiding officer after a thorough search.

“There was nothing wrong with that. There is no law that requires presiding officers to keep the original results declaration forms inside the provided IEBC materials. His job is to guard it and present it to the constituency returning officer,” he said.

He also explained that two presiding officers arrested after election materials were found abandoned had not committed any offence.

He clarified that one election official had gone to relieve himself in a nearby toilet when a crowd of rowdy youth found a ballot box and started attacking the officer.

“He had committed no offence. He only went to relieve himself but found rowdy youth surrounding the ballot box upon return. The rowdy youth returned form 37A that they had removed from the ballot box after I intervened,” said Mr Chikophe.

Kwale County returning officer Obadiah Kariuki defended Ms Achani’s victory, noting that she was validly elected.

Mr Kariuki told the court that the elections were free and fair.

“I declared Ms Achani the winner of the contest because she had garnered the most votes,” he said.

He also told the court that the errors and discrepancies pointed out at some polling stations did not affect the final results that showed Ms Achani had won.

“There were no variances, but if they were there, they were too insignificant,” he said

Mr Kariuki also defended Ms Achani, saying she was not at the county tallying centre when a group of politicians stormed the hall and demanded that vote counting be stopped.

He said the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was working within a timeline and it could not stop the counting.

“I saw Mr Lung’anzi Mangale shouting and [demanding that] the tallying of votes be stopped. I did not see Ms Achani,” he said.

In the petition, Mr Dziwe Pala and Mr Suleiman Ali want the election of Ms Achani overturned over alleged irregularities.

Ms Achani garnered 59,674 votes against Prof Hamadi Boga’s 53,972.

But the petitioners want Ms Achani’s victory overturned over alleged voter bribery and other electoral malpractices.

Alternatively, they asked the court to declare Prof Boga, who polled second, the validly elected governor of Kwale.

They also want the court to order the IEBC to organise and conduct fresh gubernatorial elections for Kwale that conform to the Constitution and the Elections Act.

They allege that Ms Achani did not win the seat fairly as the elections were marred by irregularities that affected the final results.

The petitioners allege that the governor elections and the declaration of Ms Achani as the winner subverted the will and intention of Kwale residents.

They also allege that ward administrators were sent to voters’ homes and unduly influenced them to support Ms Achani’s bid by instilling fear.

The claim Ms Achani used her position as deputy governor to influence county employees to campaign for her.

Witnesses who have testified in the case told the court that voters were not only turned away after the voting kits failed but IEBC officials declined to use manual registers to allow voters to cast their ballots.

“The presiding officer at the Mbuluni primary school [centre] declined to use the manual register, claiming that he had not been instructed to do so,” said Mr Chidzao Nyanje.

“The Kiems kits having failed completely and the presiding officer having declined to use the manual register, he closed the polling station.”

The witness also alleged that when the polling station closed, he counted more than 57 voters who were yet to cast their ballots.

“I saw a ward administrator at the polling centre moving from one stream to another while talking to people, especially women,” he added.

The also claimed IEBC officials arrived at the polling station at 9.30am and voting only kicked off 15 minutes later.

He said he arrived at the polling station by 5am but voting did not start until 9.45am.

“[The] Kiems kit was very slow, and the voting process was marred by delays as we had to wait for hours for the kits to [start working],” he said.

Though voting was extended to 9.30pm, he said, several voters left the station without casting their ballots because Kiems skits failed.

The hearing continues today.