Guys, Your Color Blindness Might Be Messing With Kenya's Elections | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Guys, Your Color Blindness Might Be Messing With Kenya's Elections

In Kenya, color blindness may be contributing to more than just questionable sartorial combinations. Some observers say it may have something to do with the hundreds of thousands of spoiled ballots — a term for disqualified or invalidated votes — in Monday's presidential election, adding new delays to declaring a winner and raising the possibility of a costly and contentious runoff election in April.

"The color coding was not as good as it should have been," Issack Hassan, chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, told The Daily Nation, Kenya's largest daily newspaper. He was describing the ballots, which were color-coded for each electoral seat, including president.

"The green was not green enough, maybe the blue should have been bluer, maybe the colors should have been stronger," Hassan said.

He said in many cases voters put their paper ballot into the wrong box.

Color blindness affects an estimated 4 percent of African men. (It's twice as prevalent among Caucasian men.) That would mean some 300,000 men who voted in Monday's election were color-blind.

The number of irregular votes? 337,000. And they're not done counting.

In some districts, the number of spoiled ballots outnumbered the number of valid ones.

Could this be the Kenyan version of hanging chads?

The significant number of rejected ballots has fueled allegations of election improprieties by the politicial parties of both of Kenya's leading presidential contenders, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga.

Those are loaded allegations in a country still sensitive to the violence that followed the previous election in 2007, when charges of vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing triggered weeks of inter-ethnic conflict that left more than 1,200 people dead.

The stakes are high for both candidates. So far, Kenyatta is maintaining a small but steady lead over Odinga. Election rules established after the election violence in 2007 and 2008 stipulate that if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election is required.

But what to do with all those spoiled ballots? That's a key debate going on now.

It could be extremely difficult for Kenyatta to exceed that 50 percent threshold if the irregular ballots are counted as part of the total. The number of spoiled ballots already exceeds 6 percent of the vote, making "Rejected" the third most popular candidate in the race.

An April runoff would increase the tension, the uncertainty, and maybe even the potential for inter-ethnic violence. A runoff would also be particularly tough for Kenyatta, since it would happen just months before he's scheduled to appear before the International Criminal Court. He faces charges for orchestrating a campaign of rape and murder against supporters of Raila Odinga after the last disputed election.

On the other hand, if the spoiled votes are not counted and Kenyatta declared the victor, would the Kenyan people — especially those from rival minority tribes — accept the result?

These days the streets of Nairobi and other Kenyan cities are unusually quiet, the typical bumper-to-bumper traffic evaporated. Where is everybody? Most are at home behind closed doors, glued to the TV, waiting for a president. And tweeting their frustration.

"So a Kenyan would rather stand in the hot sun for four hours not to elect anyone but to spoil a vote?" said Twitter user PrettyNjambi in a typical post.

Also from the Twittersphere: The relative peace and calm that has followed this election has confounded some members of the international media that parachuted into Nairobi expecting to report on violence.

This has given rise to the hashtag #tweetlikeaforeignjournalist, and tweets such as: "Foreign Journalists stranded in their hotels as peace makes it hard for them to do their job. #tweetlikeaforeignjournalist."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, Sept. 16

A local theater company takes on a classic story about identity and alienation, and a sculptor looks beneath the surface in her latest body of work.


'Language Of Food' Reveals Mysteries Of Menu Words And Ketchup

Linguist Dan Jurafsky uncovers the fishy origins of ketchup and how it forces us to rethink global history. He also teaches us how to read a menu to figure out how much a restaurant may charge.

How To Measure Success Against The New Monster In The Middle East?

But most Americans are far from clear as to what this "ISIL" monster is, other than a few shadowy, portentous figures on disturbing videotapes.

Minecraft's Business Model: A Video Game That Leaves You Alone

Microsoft is buying the company that created the video game Minecraft, which has a loyal following in part because of the freedom it allows players — including freedom from pressure to buy add-ons.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.