And Then a Bunch of Other Stuff Happened

Feel free to skip over this post. Nothing beautiful or evocative here – I just feel like I have some obligation to have a bit of continuity as to “what happened after the count”.

Once the voting and counting is done at the polling stations, a bunch of stuff happens:

  1. The ballots are rolled up in bundles of 25 and sealed back in the ballot box.
  2. The presiding officer fills out a triplicate form indicating the results of the count, and any party agents who’s still awake signs it to indicate that they witnessed it and agree with the numbers on it. Every polling station we visited, both here and in the 2011 Liberian election, had (at least) one observer from each major party watching the vote from the moment it opened until the end of counting. So in theory, there was someone from each side with a vested interest in detecting any hanky panky throughout the process. By signing the ballot, they were saying that they’d not seen any.

    One copy of the form is posted outside the polling station, and one gets attached to the ballot box. In Liberia, the Liberia Media Center used community radio encouraged folks to copy numbers from the posted form and SMS them to a call-in number, where they were filtered, aggregated and posted to a Google map. As such, in a country where there’s no electricity or running water, a handful of volunteers in Monrovia and at Google were making election results available live, worldwide (thanks Sando, Pete and Kathryn!).

  3. The ballot boxes and summary forms (Forms 34 and 35, in the case of the Kenya election) are brought – under armed guard – to a tally center. Party agents and observers typically follow along. In Kenya, the tally center is run by the Constituency Election Coordinator; she receives the ballot boxes and the forms from the PO, consults with the PO and party agents to reconcile any irregularities she can spot in the form, and adds them to her spreadsheet. She also announces them and – if the dodgy technology is working – projects the totals on the back wall so everyone can see. It is at this point that the numbers are considered “official”; if you’ve got a beef with the vote, this is when you need to speak up.

    At this point, the PO’s job is done – she and her staff can go home and get some sleep, as can – in theory – the party agents and observers for that polling station. We were lucky here: our PO finished counting by midnight, and our results were in the CEC’s hands by 2:00 a.m. Many polling stations gave up the count overnight and resumed in the morning, with PO and staff sleeping with the ballots. When we visited other CECs the next day, some POs, sitting in the dust among the backlog, had slept with their ballots the last two nights and were looking like they were going to be spending another night sleeping in a schoolyard waiting to discharge their responsibility.

  4. Also at this point, observers tend to swap off. Oley and I headed back to the Hillpark to give our LTOs (Long Term Observers – our regional leads) initial debriefs and qualitative observations. We’d been relaying the quantitative data back via forms on an android tablet as we found it, but getting all the Smurfs, er, I mean STOs in the same place was a good way to pick up on things that might not rise to the surface as a pattern if taken individually: “Oh yeah, that’s right – we noticed that, too, but I didn’t think anything of it!” It’s based on these data that the Carter Center puts together its preliminary statement, in this case, that in spite of long lines and technology fiascos (which contributed to the long lines), the voting itself seemed to go pretty well.

  5. Also at this point, your hotel gets broken into, and everyone gets all their valuables stolen. This isn’t part of the official process, but the Daisy Guest Home didn’t have safes, so we all lost some stuff. I was relatively lucky – they missed my stash of money, and I’d brought my computer and camera with me to the tally.
  6. Anyhow – Oley and I visited a few more constituencies throughout the day. Some were posh (the Stima Club in Kasanari), some… not so much (Mathari). Circling the block in Mathari, our driver wasn’t happy. “These are bad people here. Somali.” Granted, the neighborhood was a bit lower rent – chickens and ragpiles in the rutted dirt path that passed for a street; painted tin-roof shack dwellings dominating the roadside. I could have leaned my elbow on the roof of the colorful but somewhat ambitiously-named “Paradise Hotel”. But the folks we asked for directions seemed helpful enough – maybe it’s the magic of the Smurf shirt?
  7. But back to the election: once the tally center has received ballots and counts from all its polling centers, it declares the final numbers, pending complaints. At KTTI, Jamuhuri and the other centers we visited, the agents were pretty quiet, and it didn’t seem like there were going to be any issues. Mathari, on the other hand, was a rocking place. There were a couple of outbursts demanding recounts, and some beautiful real-time consensus building between the CEC and observers on how to proceed. Once the CEC has its numbers, it copies them on to (I think) Form 36 and – if the electronic result transmission system is working (it wasn’t) sends them to the national tally center in Bomas. In theory. In practice, I think they got carried there by hand.

  8. Once at Bomas, the process repeats at a national level, and it was there that folks started raising some concerns. Word was that authorities in Bomas weren’t allowing party agents or observers to adequately observe the process. It was also then that some bugs in the written procedures came into play. In order to avoid a runoff election, the winner must have 50% plus 1 of the vote. The problem was that it was not apparently specified whether that was 50% of the total votes or 50% of the valid. Given the complicated six-ballot process, plenty of people put their (white) presidential ballots in the (faint beige) parliamentary box, the (pale pink) womens rep box or the (faded yellow) regional rep box. Given that in many polling stations, voting went on well into the night, lit by a single Coleman lantern, some places had a lot of misplaced ballots like this. The votes were considered invalid as far as the presidential race was concerned (yes, they could be contested) – but were they still counted into the total number of votes? For a good part of the race, it looked like this question would settle whether or not there would be a runoff.
  9. Anyhow – this question, and the access of observers to Bomas was way above my pay grade. I gladly deferred to the direction of my superiors and retired back to my room for a long, quiet nap.
  10. Next morning (this also wasn’t part of the official election process), a bunch of us piled into a pair of rented minivans for a dawn tour of the Nairobi National Park. It’s small – about 45 square miles, but sits right at the city’s southern border. Fifteen minutes from your hotel, you can be surrounded by galloping zebras, bouncing antelopes, giraffes, lions, rhinos – the works. Photos (along with all my other Kenya photos) over here. Sure do wish my telephoto lens hadn’t gotten stolen the day before… 

So that was basically it for the election, at least as far as I was concerned. I had another day of business meetings, but that’s another story.

Note: If you’re wanting to follow all this linearly, remember that I’m posting all this stuff one week delayed. Except for the next (chronological) post, which I put up realtime, because everyone was emailing me, asking if things were alright.

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