Liberia: NEC Defends Lofa County Senatorial By-election Result

Davidetta Browne-Lansanah said...“I’m calling on all critics of the Commission’s work in Lofa to use the rule of law."

— Says anyone who disagrees with the Lofa County senatorial by-election result should go to court, despite its early result showing that the election winner Jallah and his closest rival Kortimai were given votes on NEC tally sheets more than the votes cast.

The National Elections Commission has defended the Lofa County senatorial by-election result amidst questions about its early tally sheets math that does not add up.

The electoral body chair, Davidetta Browne-Lansanah, at a July 1 press conference noted that the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) supported Candidate Jallah, who ran as an independent, won the election fairly — by obtaining 22,019 votes, which represent 36.46 percent; while Kortimai of the Unity Party (UP) came second with just over 21,000 votes, representing 35 percent. 

“I’m calling on all critics of the Commission’s work in Lofa to use the rule of law if they have any evidence to prove wrongdoing by the Commission,” Lansanah said while announcing the Lofa county final result. “Our attention has been drawn to attempts by some to misinform the public with fake reports — suffice it to say that those fake reports do not represent the official results.”

The electoral body, although it has addressed the mismatch in its data collection — the June 30 version of results from Forbayman Public School, in electoral district #1 shows that Jallah received 550 votes when it should have been 275.  Jallah got 148 votes at polling place one and 127 votes at polling Place two, but NEC's total votes count end-up at 550.  

His closest rival, Garlakpai Kortimai, in the opinion of the NEC, got 21 votes — twice from both polling places but NEC gave him 84 votes instead of 42 votes. Forbayman Public School had two polling places.  

Polling place one had a total of 180 valid votes and 18 invalid votes, totaling 198 votes; while polling place two had 162 valid votes and 6 invalid votes, totaling 168 votes. Combined, the school had total valid votes of 342 and invalid votes of 24 — an equivalent of 366 total votes cast. 

More review of the NEC preliminary data shows that at Porluma Town Hall, in district one, Jallah got a whopping 1,744 votes instead of 872 votes.    Porluma Town Hall had five polling places — and from polling places one to five, Jallah received: 176, 191, 192, 147, and 166 votes, respectively, which should have been a total of 872, but NEC gave him 1744, a difference of 872 votes.

Kortimai, however, from polling places one to five, got the following votes: 38, 34, 25, 2, 0, and 25 votes — totaling 142 votes. But NEC reported 284 votes. Valid votes from the five polling places in Porluma, a total of 1,077, and invalid votes counts were 45 — giving combined votes of 1,112. 

Also at Bandenin Melimu Town Hall two polling places, Jallah received 46 and 47 votes, however, NEC reported a total of 186 votes for him when it should have been 93.  For Kortimai, he got 10 and 11 votes, from both polling places combined, but NEC data claimed 42 votes instead of 21 votes. 

The Town Hall total valid votes were 536, while invalid votes were 106 — producing a combined total of 642 votes.  On the Bandenin Melimu Town tally sheet, Jallah's names appeared three times on the tally sheet and he got votes for each.  Similarly at Bowalahun Town Hall, in electoral District #3, which had five polling places but three reporting — Jallah obtained the votes of 187, 126, and 149, which totals 924, according to NEC data. It should have been 456 votes. 

Kortimai also got the following votes of 16, 6, and 8, producing a total, as reported by NEC 60 votes. Correctly, it should have been 30 votes.   At Bowalahun total votes were 1,717, while invalid votes counted for 78; thus producing a combined total of 1,795 votes cast. 

Jallah's name, however, appeared three times on Bowalahun and Bandenin Melimu Town tally sheets — getting votes for each. 

Whether this disparity was intentional or not, no one can tell as NEC is yet to address the issue thoroughly. Instead, the NEC chair has blamed the work of naysayers who are obsessed with releasing “fabricated” findings that are nothing more than lies.

The party and agents of candidates, according to her, sign the record of the account and, in the end, one copy is given to the two agents representing candidates who obtained the first and second-highest votes.

“After the counting at each polling place, the results are recorded and a carbon copy document, known as the record of account. Party agents sign on all records of accounts,” she explained. “The process of counting votes was fair and transparent, and agents of candidates and independent observers were at the polls all through the counting of the votes.

“NEC is concerned about the misinformation being carried out by some to undermine the result. [But] with one hundred percent of polling places having been tallied, the Commission hereby declares independent candidate Joseph Kpator Jallah, as the winner of the 28 June 2022 Senatorial By-Election in Lofa County. Any person who believes that the official results from what he or she has, can use the legal process outlined in Article 83, section (C) of the Liberian Constitution.”

However, in a July 2 press release, the NEC noted that since June 30, when it announced the announcement of the first tallied results from June 28,  “there have been attempts by some unknown person to hack its website to distort the information and to spread misinformation to the public about the results of the just-ended Lofa Senatorial by-election.”

Lofa County Senator-elect, Jallah, having run for three previous Legislative elections in the county and lost, contested with three other candidates. The recent election held in the county resulted from former Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai. He won as senator of the county in the 2020 senatorial election but did not take his seat due to criminal charges against him. 

Though an independent candidate, Jallah was overwhelmingly supported by members of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). He has now been confirmed as a legitimate member of the CDC following his victory.

The opposition Unity Party whose candidate lost the election is yet to make an official statement on NEC’s declaration of Jallah as the winner. The party had earlier said while they anticipated a fair outcome of the election no questionable result would be accepted but that was when Jallah was not announced as the winner. 

Meanwhile, the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) has released a preliminary report from its observer from the Lofa County Senatorial by-election, which states that 33% of polling places observed showed that people with valid voter card names were missing from the FRR. 

“The ECC observers noted inconsistencies in how NEC staff addressed the issue of voters whose names were missing from the FRR in which  11% of polling places observed by the ECC, voters with valid voter cards but whose names were missing on the FRR were permitted to vote. In keeping with the NEC Polling and Counting Manual Chapter 4 on ‘Determining Who May Not Vote’ subsection E states that “A person may not vote if she/he cannot be found in the voters’ roll,” the ECC said.