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Voter Education Program
Kathy Ossmann, AGLI Extended Service Volunteer

In mid-February, just weeks before Kenyans cast votes in the first election since adopting a new constitution in 2010, I co-facilitated a voter education session in southern Nandi County, site of significant post-election violence after the last national election in 2007. We met in a church near the cluster of Quaker schools in Kaimosi just a few miles north of the equator. Quaker pastors from the Tuloi Friends Yearly Meeting were invited in keeping with the AGLI/FCPT strategy of training people in positions to share the information with others.

Our session was designed to prepare Kenyans to cast ballots for newly created positions within devolved governmental structures. It’s the kind of material that needs to be fresh in voters’ minds on election day and, at the same time, shared with many people who need the information. Shortly after Joe and I arrived, we were part of 30 AGLI/FCPT lead trainers who spent a week at the Peace House in Lugari Yearly Meeting, learning and practicing the essentials of a voter education program. We and the others then used this train-the-trainers approach to conduct voter education sessions throughout western Kenya.

As a result of devolution, this election put a national Senate and county governments into operation. Existing national structures, such as the Executive Branch and National Assembly (Parliament) were also modified. For voters, this meant voting for six positions (the most in any previous election was three), four of which never existed before. Our voter education curriculum included descriptions of the structures and roles for the new national and county units, responsibilities for each elective office and how these changes impacted the voting process.

The new constitution also addresses many of the problems that led to conflict and violence during and after the 2007 election. One trigger for violence was the not unfounded belief that the winner of the presidential race “stole the election” with fraudulent voting. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was created to ensure free, fair and transparent elections. Last November the IEBC re-registered all Kenyan voters capturing fingerprints and photos to use for biometric verification on election day. Our sessions included materials about what to expect at the polling station with this and other changes to prevent fraud. The training also covered the importance of voting, making wise choices, the new Code of Conduct signed by all candidates and political parties, and the leadership and integrity portion of the constitution.

At the conclusion, we asked the pastors to share this information with their churches on the three Sundays remaining before the election. All commented that they had learned something new in the session and agreed to pass along the information. About halfway through our session a young man on crutches joined us. He raised some excellent questions about policies for assisting disabled voters during the voting process. I’m quite certain that he, too, intended to share the information with other disabled people in his community.

While we were only one of many organizations providing voter education, the whole effort seems to have borne fruit. There were less than 1% of ballots rejected in an election with 86% of registered voters casting ballots. While there were some problems with the systems planned by the IEBC, everyone who wanted to vote was able to and most of the over 30,000 polling stations ran smoothly. So far there has been no – election-related violence in the post-election period that was so horrific five years ago. I think that my efforts and those of other AGLI/FCPT facilitators were part of this positive change.