Kenyan Election Marked By Record Turnout, Limited Violence

In the east African nation of Kenya, voters cast ballots for their next president from a field featuring the sons of the nation's first leaders. One of them has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged human rights abuses related to elections five years ago when more than 1,200 people died in ethnic violence.

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Votes are now being tallied in Kenya's presidential contest. The country has taken strides to avoid the kind of violence that followed the last election back in 2007, but today did not begin well. More than a dozen people were killed in attacks by separatists in Kenya's port city of Mombasa. But elsewhere, long lines and bureaucratic delays under a hot sun were the main obstacles for voters, who turned out in record numbers.

Here's NPR's Gregory Warner.

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GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: The line outside the TMB polling station in Nairobi stretched over a mile long. Ten thousand had registered in a polling station in design for only 3,000. The process was going so slowly that voters, waiting since 6 AM, hadn't even gotten inside the compound by 10.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

WARNER: That's when part of the crowd broke past the barricades and flooded the compound where the cardboard voting booths were set up.

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WARNER: This slum is where the first tribal violence erupted in Nairobi after the 2007 presidential election. Now this ethnically mixed crowd, united by frustration, streams into the gate. Police standing guard at the booth raised their batons. Just then a group of election volunteers jumped in to try to orient the newcomers.

Michael Otieno, a fishmonger, leapt out of his own voting line to help out.

MICHAEL OTIENO: I'm not an official.

WARNER: OK, you're just trying to keep the peace.

OTIENO: Yeah, I just want all the people to vote.

WARNER: A few hours later, across town, in another slum called Kibera, a dozen women are accosting a poll worker. Their names aren't on the register.

DOREEN OCHIENG: I went to check, and they told me to fill a form, and still my name is not there. Why?

WARNER: In the last election, thousands of ethnically Luo names were allegedly dropped from voter rolls. Many Luo names begin recognizably with O, like Barack Obama or Doreen Ochieng - the woman shouting.

This time, the savior comes in the form of a diminutive poll worker Phoebe Oweno, who pops out of her office to direct everyone to their proper lines.

PHOEBE OWENO: The situation is a bit hectic, but we'll manage.

WARNER: She was tensely aware that, in Kenya, small issues can escalate into big ones. The last round of election violence was triggered, in part by accusations of widespread voting impropriety. In this election, the Luo candidate Raila Odinga is contesting a Kikuyu, Uhuru Kenyatta. And because voting in Kenya falls along tribal lines, it's easy for any election problems to be seen as attacks, not only on a candidate but his entire tribal base.

PAUL WARAMBO: When there is a problem with the voter registration, Kenyans start reading mischief. And so we can't take it lightly.

WARNER: Paul Warambo also spent today preventing flare-ups. He was working with a not-for-profit tech project called Uchaguzi, to translate text messages from voters about election problems and connect them with officials. By 2 o'clock they'd already translated...

WARAMBO: Three thousand and some hundreds. Precisely, I'm not sure because even as we speak, translation is going on.

WARNER: One reason for all the problems - election officials were woefully unprepared for the record-breaking voter turnout.

JOHN STEMLAU: Is it hope or is it fear that's driving this election turnout? We won't know until we see the results.

WARNER: John Stremlau is monitoring the election for the Carter Center. He says the international community put $100 million into this election, making it the most monitored in Kenya's history. But ultimately, everything will depends on the loser.

STEMLAU: It all comes down to the loser accepting with equanimity the results. But it's up to us as observers to give the confidence that this was a credible process.

WARNER: One more credibility question will come up if the winner is Uhuru Kenyatta. He's currently accused of crimes against humanity for his role in the last election. The answer could come in the next few days. Or if neither candidate has a majority, this election will go to a runoff in April.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi.

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