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Meet Audrey Kasandi: Deputy Polling Station Official for Kenya's 2013 Elections

19-year-old Audrey Kasandi served as a deputy presiding officer at a polling station for Kenya's 2013 general elections. (All photos: P.Munene/The Carter Center)

In 2008, Audrey Kasandi remembers traveling to school in a convoy escorted by armed police for safety, and seeing burned down shells of houses and tent villages stretched across fields full of internally displaced people in Kenya's Rift Valley as the country recoiled from post-election violence. Yet when opportunity arose to serve as deputy presiding officer of a polling station in March 2013, she jumped at the chance despite her fears.

"I wanted a front row seat to this historic election," she said.

The enthusiasm and hopefulness of young Kenyans like Audrey was mirrored by the lines that stretched in some cases for multiple kilometers on March 4, when voting took place in general elections observed by The Carter Center.

The Center hoped its presence would contribute to a credible, peaceful election process and help the country move beyond the violence that followed disputed presidential elections results in 2007. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced then and more than 1,000 killed as longstanding tension among tribes reignited. Violence included the killing of people hiding in a church near Eldoret in western Kenya, where Audrey attended school.

"I did not report to school until March 2008 when the violence subsided, and even then it was still tense," she said. "My physical appearance does not immediately identify me as a certain tribe, and my parents were concerned that I may be targeted. I do not speak my mother tongue (Luhya) so I could not even explain to a mob what tribe I am; after 2008, I tried to learn this language."

While observing on March 4, Dr. John Stremlau, vice president for peace programs at The Carter Center, talks with Audrey Kasandi, deputy presiding officer at KIRDI polling station in Nairobi. "It's encouraging to see such a highly motivated young person actively participating in the electoral process," he said.

Many Kenyans worried about a repeat of violence around the 2013 election, which thus far has not happened despite the very close presidential election results.

"I have been scared since 2007, even during this election period I was still apprehensive," said Audrey. "I took the job of deputy presiding officer despite the fear. Whatever was going to happen would happen."

A 60-person Carter Center delegation found that despite serious shortcomings in the election commission's management of technology and tabulation of election results, the 2013 election results reflected the will of Kenyan voters.

Voters prepare to cast their ballots at the KIRDI polling station near Nairobi, Kenya, where Audrey Kasangi was deputy presiding officer.

With an 86 percent turnout of registered voters, Audrey was kept very busy on election day. Her duties included setting up the polling station, supervising polling clerks and the line to vote, attending to special needs people, and counting ballots. At just 19 years old, she was one of Kenya's youngest polling station officials.

"It's encouraging to see such a highly motivated young person actively participating in the electoral process," said Dr. John Stremlau, vice president for peace programs at The Carter Center. "Youth engagement is critical to building the culture of civic participation that strengthens democracy over time."

Audrey said she likely will participate again in future elections as a polling station official and is optimistic for Kenya's future.

"I hope for more equity in my country," she said. "It can be done."

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