Speculations about cross border voting in bordering counties over the time has been an age-old discussion since Liberia transitioned to democratic governance in 2005. There have been reports that Guineans and Sierra Leoneans mainly, have been crossing over to Liberia to register and participate in the electoral process, but there has, however, been no substantial evidence yet as to how true the speculation is as towns on either side of the Liberian border have people who speak the local languages in common and have some genealogical relationships.
However, the truism associated with this long-existing speculation was laid bare last week in Nomodatanau, Gbarpolu County electoral district #3 after a tense electoral dispute between Independent Candidate Botoe Kanneh and Paramount Chief McGill Wleh who ordered the Country Devil (Poro Master) to scare away voters.
Nomodatanau is a small village that is about five kilometers away from Tubmanburg, Bomi County with a terrible road condition, poor health care delivery system and education facilities.
During the rescheduled election held on January 7, 2021, many individuals were prevented from entering Nomodatanau to participate in the election, even though they were in possession of valid voter registration cards that date as far back as 2017.
Paramount Chief McGill Wleh, speaking through an interpreter, told the Daily Observer in an interview that during every election year, the people of Nonodatanuo usually invite the nearby villages in Sierra Leone to participate in the elections to give them political weight.
“Those Sierra Leoneans can come here during elections because we are brothers and sisters, and we can go to their country to help them too, but this year, we were doing both referendum and special senatorial election. We allow those people to register because we were not educated about the referendum process. After they had taken the voter cards, the superintendent sent a communication, informing them about the nature of the election,” he disclosed.
Chief McGill said: “Upon knowing the importance of the elections, they wrote the Sierra Leoneans asking them not to participate in this election. When we told them about our decision, they got angry and told us not to cross the border [to Sierra Leone] for any transaction.”
“Some reason why the Sierra Leoneans have always participated in Liberia’s election is that, politicians usually give them money to come and vote for them during the electioneering period. And we that are from here too can go vote in their elections without [them] giving us money. That is why we put a stop to them not to participate in our elections this time around,” he told the Daily Observer.
Chief McGill said besides participating in cross border elections, they get treatment and other important commodities from the bordering town in Sierra Leone, which he said cements their relationship for which the cross-border election participation is smooth.
During a conversation with election observers in Gbarpolu, a senior officer of the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) said it is important that the National Elections Commission (NEC) during the voter registration process work with the LIS to have immigration officers deployed to strategic locations to avoid foreign nationals participating in the country’s elections.
With the help of the Liberia Peacebuilding Office head, Edward F. Mulbah and other observers, Sierra Leoneans were differentiated from Liberians during the election.
According to Mulbah, there is a need for peaceful dialogue between those bordering towns to educate them on the danger of participating in cross border elections.
Some Sierra Leonean voters were caught attempting to vote but with voter’s registration cards of Sierra Leone. However, LIS officers prevented them from entering.