Be Patient: It's Normal for Results to Take Time
My Observations of Liberia’s 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections
By Wynfred Russell
On October 10, Liberians went to the polls in large numbers to elect a president, vice president, and members of the Senate and House of Representatives in hopes of further consolidating peace, strengthening their democracy, and improving their living conditions. I am grateful to have been allowed to monitor the elections.
Despite visible logistical challenges, the National Election Commission (NEC) polling staff, party poll watchers, and security forces were at all the precincts I visited and performed diligently. The polling stations in Bong, Margibi, and Montserrado counties were orderly, with a large voter turnout and many people displaying an elevated enthusiasm to cast their ballots. Many polling stations opened on time at 8:00 a.m. with the requisite number of NEC staff and security present. They understood the opening procedures well and followed the required steps.
Several political parties and international monitors were fully represented and in large numbers. Although this high degree of participation likely led to transparency, it also contributed to the challenges of NEC effectively managing the crowd and polling stations, which slowed the process. The NEC staff demonstrated professionalism in most of its dealings that I observed. Despite the large crowds of voters, often in cramped, dark spaces used for voting, I did not witness any incidents.
Sadly, some of the stations visited were inaccessible to persons with disabilities, making it cumbersome to participate in the elections. At the few accessible stations, tensions arose with other voters already in lines when elderly individuals, pregnant women, and disabled voters were given priority in the voting process. Some voters needed to be educated on accommodating people with disabilities. On the other hand, in almost every station, I witnessed people asking for assistance and receiving it.
Most of the challenges faced by the NEC in adequately managing the elections can be blamed on navigating Liberia's chronic underdevelopment environment (deplorable roads, dilapidated public buildings, decrepit internet service, and the lack of constant electricity). Some precincts with multiple polling places were overcrowded, and some voters needed clarification on the proper queue to join; some polling places with many registered voters had a few voting booths.
The Liberian media landscape is diverse and buoyant. Radio is by far the most dominant source of information. A lack of resources constrains all media outlets, and ads are few and far between. As a result, media entities are susceptible to manipulation by special interests and political pressure. Some journalists do their best to reflect a range of objective views. Still, the state-run ELBC coverage was patently biased and served as the official mouthpiece of the ruling CDC, giving them an unfair advantage. However, other factors put voters at risk of obtaining partial information. Those with political aims pay for a significant amount of content, and paid content was often not labeled as such. Additionally, many media outlets are owned by or affiliated with politicians, and many people told me it is difficult to distinguish between objective journalistic reporting and paid-for content.
Social media, particularly Facebook, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter), was used increasingly among Liberians in the urban areas and the diaspora. This has increased political and electoral engagement opportunities and provided a level playing field for all candidates.
Observer missions urged candidates, political parties, and voters to be patient for a final result before declaring victory. However, that largely fell on deaf ears as all parties, especially the CDC and UP, were running ahead of the NEC by claiming they had won. The fear of violence became increasingly palpable and worrying.
Waiting for the results is one thing. Believing them is only as good as the willingness of the people to accept them. Therefore, the NEC must announce the results with a geographical count breakdown, which may help minimize mistrust. Having projected results on election night and having a sense of certainty of the outcome may be what everyone likes to see, but that is impossible given Liberia's spectacular developmental morass, so as long as the counting continues and the legal challenges are addressed openly, somewhat and in a timely and effective manner, that will indicate that the process and the systems are working.
Given the country's experience of past conflict, underdevelopment, poor infrastructure, low literacy, and a crumbling economy, Liberians should take great pride in the first-round presidential and legislative elections outcome. Concerted, good-faith efforts will be needed to ensure the November 14 presidential second-round voting meets a successful conclusion as well.