The Women’s Situation Room (WSR) has called on the National Elections Commission (NEC) to enhance Civic Voter Education ahead of the runoff in order to prevent the astounding number of invalid votes that were reported in the polls on October 10.
According to WSR, the inadequacy of civic and voter education before the October 10 polls contributed to the 114,639 invalid votes which represented 5.88% of the total votes.
“NEC informed Liberians that first-time voters constituted a little over 20 percent of registered voters — a figure which pointed to the priority of Civic and Voter Education. While the WSR Talking Bus was deployed to its 7 active counties for such education, NEC together with other stakeholders needed to scale up CVE efforts to ensure voters were sufficiently informed.”
WSR recommended door-to-door visits, radio talk shows, TV programmes, jingles, and dialogues with politically marginalized people such as women, youth, and persons with disabilities that NEC and partners can use to boost CVE ahead of the runoff election.
“The Talking Bus will once more be deployed by the WSR to our 7 counties to assist in the Civic and Voter Education as we wait for the runoff election.”
The 114,639 invalid votes reported by NEC have received public condemnation, with accusing fingers pointed at the electoral body for potential electoral fraud.
But the chairperson of NEC, Davidetta Brown-Lansanah, refluted the accussation, saying that there are several reasons for invalid votes.
“You will recall that during the biometric voter registration and during the campaign, oftentimes we had Liberians punching holes in the eyes and ears of candidates [banners] they did not favor. They even brought down posters. Perhaps this was also transferred to the ballots.”
“Aggression, attitudes are usually transferred to the ballots,” Lansannah said. “Instead of marking the person that you are for, you mark the person that you hate — the person that you don’t want to win. This probably also obtained during this period.
“Secondly, it is important to note that Civic and Voter Education (CVE) is not just with the Election Commission for a brief period of about three months. This should be an ongoing exercise. Moreover, it should be integrated in the national curriculum so that schools begin to teach through the National Elections Commission providing support, how to mark the ballot,” the Commissioner added. “This is a long-term process and just three months perhaps is insufficient to get the kind of results that we all want.”
The October 10 polls received a massive turnout from citizens, although there were issues ranging from slow pace of work, insufficient staff, and low security apparatus. However, the NEC reported a total of 1,920,641 (77.71%), both valid and invalid voters. WSR, as an election monitoring group, believes that the invalid votes reported was as a result of the commission’s failure to put proper mechaisms in place.
At a news conference on Thursday, October 26, 2023, Cllr. Yvette Chesson-Wureh, Establishment Coordinator of the Angie Brooks International Centre and Initiator of the WSR, noted that the political parties and candidates should ensure that proper policing is done to regulate campaign Activities.
“The responsibility of peaceful and non-provocative campaign activities lies with the political parties scheduled for the presidential runoff election. Devout partisans from the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Unity Party (UP) listen and follow directions which trickle down to them from their party’s leadership as well as the managers of the political campaigns.”
The National Elections Commission (NEC) officially announced on tuesday, October 24, 2023 that no presidential candidate received 50% plus one of the votes, annoucing a runoff election between the top two candidates, President George Weah and former Vice president Joseph Bookai, scheduled for Novermber 14, 2023.
Cllr. Wureh, called on NEC to begin early preparations for the runoff including alternative means to transport the sensitive and nonsensitive materials to the various polling precincts and places. “Where the need arises, these materials should be protected against damage and additional costs especially across river communities.”
“The NEC temporal staff managing the elections at the various polling precincts and polling places should be incentivized at the time of deployment to keep their focus on the tasks assigned to them. The WSR observers were engaged during the October 10 elections on the lack of stipends, especially those in rural areas, wherein they had to rely on the generosity of residents.”