Election, Referendum Underway with Sparse Voter Turnout

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With voting well underway in Liberia’s tense midterm senatorial, referendum and represrntative by-elections, the process across the country appears to be progressing smoothlyn with sparse voter turnout in most places.

But this election in particular is proving to be more than just the fulfillment f a constitutional mandate to change-guard in one half of the Senate. A more pronounced characteristic of today’s exercise is that the decision that shall arise from the ballot count will go down in history as a mid-term assessment of the performance of President George Manneh Weah’s six-year term, and his party, the Coalition for Democratic Change.

As people vote today, they will be choosing one senator for their respective counties, and, in some districts, a representative to replace two deceased ones.

The other highilight of this election is the controversial constitutional referendum, to decide on proposed changes concerning dual-citizenship, the lengths of presidential and legislative terms, as well when elections should be held.

At polling stations across the nation, lines had already formed before polls opened at 7 a.m. local time. 

There are more than 2 million registered voters this year election, according to the National Elections Commission, with more than 30,000 polling stations.

So far, voting has been going on smoothly with very few challenges. Voter turnout is sparse but things could change before the polls close by 6 pm. Voting begins at some voting stations on time at 8 a.m. but, as usual, there were delays in some areas.

However, the pace of the voting is not quick as voters anticipated, and many are finding it difficult to understand the referendum ballot paper.

As a result, polling staff have to spend five to ten minutes explaining the voting process to each voter, a time-consuming process.

Most voters spoken to seem to be frustrated when issued a referendum ballot paper as most of them don’t understand what they are voting for and the impact it would have on them.

Some voters interviewed for this story explained that they are “just voting because I have to do so but I don’t understand anything. I don’t know what I am voting for or the consequences of my vote. This is a complete injustice to us but we have no choice.”

The lack of voter education about the referendum might likely result in a high number of invalid votes, as many, especially the uneducated, expressed their frustration when handed the referendum ballot.

Some try to seek detailed explanations about the referendum, but the NEC polling staff cannot provide much information about how to vote, since the campaign period has ended.

Moreover, some NEC polling staff have made it mandatory that voters wear nose-masks to vote, a mandate that runs contrary to NEC guidelines that whether someone has a mask or not, they should not be denied the opportunity to vote.

It was observed that voters without masks, especially when next in line to vote were to ask to leave the line to get a mask before voting.

NEC, on its Facebook Page on December 6, 2020, wrote that: “The NEC has described as untrue reports that the Commission will not allow voters without masks to vote on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, Senatorial Election, Referendum and two Representative By-elections.

“These reports that people without masks will not vote on Tuesday are only intended to discourage registered voters from turning out to vote,” NEC said.

Furthermore, in a few polling stations observed in Montserrado County, voters had to find for themselves the precinct they are to vote on while checking the Final Voters Roll which was time consuming.

But at most places visited, NEC staff were able to help voters find their precinct by showing them the queue they had to stand in to vote.

So far, nothing like discrimination was observed, and the elderly and citizens with disabilities were given first preference to vote.

And most polling stations have limited observers from political parties, and independent candidates, and national observers. 

Most polling stations are represented by an observer from the CPP and CDC, despite more than five party contestants on the ballot, as well as few independent candidates, for the Montserrado County Senatorial.

Editor’s Note:  This report is compiled from visits by our reporters to more than 20 polling stations and interviews with polling staff and National Observers.

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