Josiah Flomo Joekai, Jr. is former Director of Civic and Voter Education of the National Elections Commission with more than 13 years of professional service in the areas of education management, democracy and governance. He has authored several published articles and books on contemporary issues.
Chairman Jerome G. Korkoya of the National Elections Commission on June 14, 2017 informed the nation through an elaborate press conference that citizens with valid voter registration cards will vote during the ensuing October 10, 2017 elections whether or not they are captured on the Final Registration Roll. Chairman Korkoya’s statement was in response to the growing reported problems linked to the exhibition exercise particularly, the alarming omission of names and particulars of registered voters on the exhibited Provisional Registration Roll (PRR).
These reports came from credible sources such as media correspondents, government officials and private citizens from across the country. Many of them reported that from their own assessments, especially visits to Voter Registration Centers and interactions with their fellow compatriots, the names and particulars of hundreds and thousands of registrants were omitted from the Provisional Registration Roll.
Indisputably, this is a critical national issue which has attracted tremendous attention. That is exactly why in no uncertain terms any Liberian should be allowed to vote without being accounted for by the voters roll. The reported omissions are not just in the fives, tens but hundreds and thousands. If this is anything to go by, it cannot in any way be taken lightly since many Liberians stand to be disenfranchised as a result of these reports. What is even worrying is the number of reported cases of illegal voter registration activities that took place using NEC registration materials in some instances during the exercise from February 1-March 14, 2017. Even though some of the culprits were apprehended, the public is yet to know the outcome of those illegal activities in terms of the number of cards recovered, in whose custody they (Voter Registration Cards) are, and what has happened to those involved. Besides, forgery is one thing that remains prevalent in our society today. Thus, no one doubts the possibility of the use of hundreds or thousands of forged Voter Registration Cards in October given the capacity issue that remains a challenge for the Commission.
This matter is grave and one that requires prompt and practical solution. As such, the Commission has to come out clearly to firstly confirm whether or not these reports are true. With my limited experience in electioneering, I would want to believe that there were difficulties in getting many of the Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) forms containing the information of applicants scanned appropriately, thereby failing to capture their photos and particulars. Another reason that may account for this could be the inexperience of registration staff who failed to meticulously arrange the OMR forms according to serial numbers, thus accounting for the disorderly manner in which names and particulars are captured on the Provisional Registration Roll. If these reasons are amongst causes of the problem, the Commission need not ignore the facts but rather inform the public in a manner and form that will be vividly understood. The reason is simple. Fears have to be allayed, trust and confidence assured.
In a credible electioneering process, deception is not possible because numbers don’t lie and the facts are always unraveled no matter what. Thus, it is better to divulge the reality now with respect to the current state of the voters roll rather than present a roll that does not reflect the actual number of voters in possession of Voter Registration Cards at the polls in October. Absolutely, that will run inimical to the gains that have been made and sustenance of our bourgeoning democracy.
I find it incomprehensible to believe by any measure that the statement made by the NEC Chairman came as a result of the decision of the Board of Commissioners given its incoherence to the standard of maintaining a credible roll. Although I may be wrong but under no circumstance should an Electoral Management Body (EMB) like as ours make such policy statement that has serious implications for the conduct of the October polls. The statement is one that has the propensity to manipulate the voters roll, create a floodgate for illegal voting and undermine the very core democratic values and principles of fairness, transparency, accountability and integrity that we seek to uphold.
For the sake of the records, the exhibition of the Provisional Registration Roll which is part of the overall voter registration exercise is a regular activity of our electoral process intended to correct the particulars of registered voters and remove the names of those who are ineligible in keeping with established guidelines and regulations of the Commission. This vetting exercise is fundamentally required for the finalization of the Provisional Registration Roll into a credible Final Registration Roll. The voters roll or electoral roll is a list of persons who are eligible to vote in a particular election as required by our electoral jurisdiction. The voters roll is a fundamental requirement that enables stakeholders to gauge the credibility of a given election. This is so because the roll serves to prevent illegal voting or electoral fraud in general by verifying a voter’s identity and entitlement to a vote and ensures that a person does not vote multiple times.
Although the nomenclature may vary from one jurisdiction to another, it however remains an undisputed international acceptable standard for the conduct of elections particularly in countries that subscribe to and practice participatory democracy such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, etc. In essence, without a roll, there will be no election. This goes without saying that the credibility of a given election is contingent on the integrity of the voters roll.
Like many jurisdictions, the voters roll of Liberia is attainable through a periodic voter registration exercise conducted by the National Elections Commission. According to Article 77(b) of the 1986 Constitution, a citizen who attains the age of 18 years or above shall be registered as a voter to vote in an election. Pursuant to this Constitutional requirement, the New Elections Law of 1986 as amended in 2003, 2004 and 2014 further strengthens the mandate of the Commission to undertake this national task. The incorporation of these vital provisions into our organic law and the electoral act of the country respectively, speaks to the importance of accounting for every voter in any given elections in our embryonic democracy.
Obviously, it is absurd for any individual or institution least to mention the Commission with the mandate to oversee elections to declare that citizens can vote without being captured by the voters roll. This statement in my candid opinion should be retracted by the Commission and genuine assurance given through an implementable strategy for the enrollment of individuals whose names or particulars were omitted from the Provisional Registration Roll.