Kenya begins biometric voter registration

A nationwide biometric registration programme got underway in Kenya on 19 November, ahead of the general elections on 4 March 2013.

The month-long programme, which ends on 19 December, will replace the manual registration process that was blamed for widespread electoral irregularities during Kenya last election in 2007 and the subsequent violence in which over 1,200 people died.

The procedure takes a few minutes and begins when voters present their national identity card at the polling centre. After their serial number is entered into a computer, voters are required to verify their data by pressing their fingertips against a computer screen and looking into a camera. They are then presented with a card confirming their eligibility to vote.

The voting exercise reportedly experienced a slow start, with complaints that some registration officials did not understand how to operate the registration kits, which the Kenyan government procured from Canada.

The country's president Mwai Kibaki has urged all eligible voters – there were just over 18 million in 2007 – to register as soon as possible both to avoid the last minute rush and because the voter registration will not be extended after its deadline on 19 December.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IBEC) has stated that voters will only be able to cast ballots at the polling centre where they register as voters. The electoral body said that there are some 30,000 clerks on hand to register voters at the 25,000 registration centres across the country, which are open daily from 08.00-17.00.

Following a referendum in 2010, Kenya voted to increase its constituencies from 210 to 290, meaning that in addition to the new biometric voting system, there will be new electoral boundaries - two fundamental changes since 2007.

Kenya is the first east African country to adopt biometic voting as a way to curb electoral fraud.