With Kenyatta’s time in office coming to an end, how do Kenya’s elections work?

And how many voters have voted in the elections since 2002?

By Gemma Ritchie
Monday, August 1, 2022

Kenyan Flag Photo: Wallpaper Access

Kenyans will head to the polls on 9 August 2022 to elect a new president. But that is just one of five ballot papers. They are also voting for members of the national assembly, female national assembly representatives, senators, county representatives and governors – six ballot papers in all – but we will only focus on one.

Kenya has had four presidents since independence in 1964.

Vying for the presidency

Four candidates are running for president in Kenya this month

  • Raila Odinga
  • David Waihiga Mwaure
  • William Ruto
  • George Wajackoyah

Raila Odinga from the Orange Democratic Movement served as the Prime Minister of Kenya from 2008 to 2013. He has run unsuccessfully for presidency four times.  Uhuru Kenyatta, Odinga’s former rival, has endorsed Odinga for this year’s election.

Kenyatta defeated Odinga in the 8 August 2017 elections with 54% of the vote compared to Odinga 44.7%. But a court ruling nullified the election results, and it was rerun on 26 October 2017. Kenyatta then won 98% of the vote after Odinga withdrew from the election rerun in protest.

David Waihiga Mwaure from the Agano Party is a lawyer and minister. Mwaure ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2013. His party, Agano, was formed in 2006.

William Ruto, who has been Kenya’s deputy president since 2013, is also a candidate for the presidency this year as a member of the newly formed United Democratic Alliance. Ruto was previously a member of KANU.

And, lastly, Professor George Wajackoyah from the Roots Party Kenya. One of Wajackoyah‘s presidential campaigns is to decriminalise marijuana and farm it for sale and export.

How to become the president

Parliamentary and presidential elections are held by secret ballot on the second Tuesday in August every five years.

Registered voters (and candidates) are adult citizens who have ‘not [been] declared to be of unsound mind’ and have not been convicted of an election offence in the past five years.

Presidential candidates are either nominated by a political party or run as independent candidates but each must have 2,000 votes from a majority of the 47 counties.

A person is only elected president of Kenya if

  • They win more than half of the votes in the election
  • And win at least 25% of the vote in half of the counties

After Kenya elects a president, the president cannot hold office for more than two five-year terms. If no presidential candidate wins the election outright, a new election will happen within 30 days, with only the candidates with the highest number of votes contesting the election.

Requirements to be a presidential candidate, according to the Independent Electoral Boundaries and Commission

  • Kenyan citizenship
  • Recognised university degree
  • Nominated by a political party or an independent candidate
  • No allegiance to a foreign state
  • Must not have abused or misused the state of public office

Voter turnout

Kenya has a population of 54.9-million, of which 28.9-million are over the age of 18. This year, 22-million Kenyans, 76% of the eligible voters, have registered to vote in the August elections – 2.5-million more than in the 2017 elections.

Map showing where Kenya's registered voters live

The voter turnout in the 8 August 2017 election was 77%, but in the October rerun only 39% of the registered voters cast valid votes.

In 2013, the voter turnout was 86%. In 2007, it was 69%, and in 2002, it was 56%.

All in all, there are 90 political parties putting forward candidates for the other electable positions on the national assembly, senate, county assemblies and governorship.