Liberia: The Role of Law Enforcement on Election Day

Meanwhile, police have informed the public that it is still conducting a professional standards probe of its officers that were in charge of security for the July 26 celebration.

Guest Editorial by Al Karlay

When I served as the Deputy Inspector General of Police for Operations, in the Liberia National Police, LNP, under the Madame Sirleaf Administration, I was responsible for all aspects of law enforcement activities surrounding the 2017 general and presidential elections.

My team, at the time, comprised some of the LNP’s best brains, such as, officers: Chris Roberts, Fitzgerald Biago, Dao Freeman, Sebastian Farr, Alex Saye-RIP, Tarpleh, Massaquoi, and a host of other supporting officers. My team and I drew up operations plans in coordination with our UNMIL Advisors whose responsibility was only to provide the necessary logistics where needed. Today a copy of that elections operations plan is still at the LNP which I seriously encourage those now in charge to resurrect and put into action, provided for some tweaking here and there, where necessary.

These October 10, 2023 Elections

From all indications, I am getting these creepy feelings that these pending elections would be like no other elections before them.  Never has there been such an election with so much polarization of the masses. Even those from political parties are themselves polarized within their own political parties — intra-party polarization. In homes; children are against parents; neighbours against neighbours and the list goes on. Never have I seen such abrupt and predictable shift in how people are so expressive of their sides as in these elections. Monikers such as “Rescue One and Rescue Two”, ”Fixer One and Fixer Two”, “Rescue Mother”, “Liberia’s best President”, “Bad road medicine” “the Best President since JJ Roberts”, “Broom One and Broom Two”, and the list goes on. And added are the name-calling and bullying by surrogates, which are just so obnoxious that one can surmise how difficult a task it would be to reconcile the people after the elections dust is settled. I foresee a humongous task ahead for the likely reconciler.   

These October 10, 2023 elections promise to be a watershed moment in our nation’s history.

Security Prior to voting day

Prior to the start of voting activities, security may be needed at voting stations during the periods between delivery of election materials and equipment to the voting station before the commencement of voting. And where possible, it is recommended that voting stations should be set up on the day before voting commences, in order to forestall the numerous problems generally associated with setting up on the day of voting. 

Depending on the result of risk assessment, where necessary, security is stationed overnight to secure voting materials and equipment. 

Security on the Day of Election:

During the day of polling, uniformed police officers should not generally be allowed around polling places and, more especially, uniformed AFL officers. The presence of uniformed officers can intimidate voters and in some instances lead to serious commotion which could likely lead to the disruption of voting activities.

When I served as the 102, (the numerical code for the deputy for operations in the LNP), my uniformed officers were stationed at a location far from the polling places but close enough to arrive for any eventualities. What we did was to assign plain clothes officers at the polling places to monitor voting activities. 

The Need for Security at Polling Places

The required level of involvement of law enforcement in maintaining security during voting will depend on the results of risk assessment of the security situation. However, where elections have had a peaceful history, National Elections Commission (NEC) officials may be able to handle all such minor security incidents with prior arrangements from the LNP who are stationed in the vicinity but out of sight to avoid complaints of voters’ intimidation or other disturbances.

On the other hand, where security risk assessments show a higher level of risk of political or physical aggression or transgression as was in the case of the Telia Urey and Cornelia Kruah and now the Foya elections violence incidents, respectively, where injuries and property damage resulted, either due to the lack of risk assessment or lapses on the part of the LNP, or where elections have the potential to result in radical changes in the control or structure of government, engagement of security forces for protection of voters and voting stations is required and mandatory.

Voting Day Security Deployment

During voting day as indicated earlier, security personnel should be in place. Uniformed officers should be stationed at a designated location with plain clothes officers present during the voting period. But mind you, those plain clothes officers should not make obvious security moves unless absolutely necessary at the request of election officials. 

For law enforcement officers to have a role in directing any aspect of the voting process, would raise questions about the integrity of the elections. However, where security actions are to be taken at a voting location, such action should be matched and proportional because a heavy handed police action employed in a relatively peaceful environment, may discourage attendance by voters or raise doubts about who is controlling the voting process, thus giving life to speculations and rumours that the process was set to end up in disruptions so as to rigged the results from the get go.

But where law enforcement should be active on their heels and set to respond at the moment’s notice, in areas where the risk assessment is higher, for example, as was in the Telia Urey case, Lapses on the part of the police in such a high risk environment risked endangering voters and voting material or allowing intimidation of voters and even causing injuries to voters and properties. To prevent a repeat of the Telia Urey scenario is possible only by rapid response by police to any voting station backed by operational readiness and sufficient and adequate resource allocation.

What should be the role of the police at polling stations?

In all cases, law enforcement should be available whether in plain clothes or uniformed officers stationed at a secluded location to assist voting officials by immediately removing from voting stations, persons who refused to obey lawful directions from voting officials.

Some specific duties of law enforcement on Election Day or the day before election:

  1. To Ensure that voters are not harassed on their way to vote or from the voting place;
  2. To Maintain check points at strategic locations leading to polling places to check and search for weapons or other harmful objects;
  3. To Ensure in cases of emergencies or disasters, evacuation and escapes routes for persons at voting stations are provided;
  4. To Ensure that disturbances are put under control with immediate effect within or near polling station.

Security after Voting:

The role of law enforcement is not over simply because the polls have closed. Law enforcement officers must remain at the various polling stations to provide security or to assist in turning people away who arrived after the polls have closed. Law enforcement officers would also be required to provide security during the counting of ballots or during the transportation of ballots to tallying canters.  

About the Author:Al Karlay formerly served as Deputy Inspector General, (102) in the LNP under the Madam Sirleaf government: he is currently an instructor at the LNP Training Academy. He can be contacted at: