Voting in Liberia’s special senatorial, referendum and by-elections passed yesterday calmly despite a stunning wave of violence and electoral dispute.
The Emmanuel Christian Academy on the S.D Cooper Road, erupted in confusion during the evening hours, when eyewitnesses said people, believed to be members of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, came in their numbers to observe the counting of ballot papers.
Eyewitnesses said the tension grew when the polling staff requested that some party’s observers and the media leave the polling place to create space for counting the vote cast.
According to eyewitnesses, after the other observers and the media were leaving the place, “those guys claiming to be CDCians with observer tags, bearing the signature of Mulbah Morlu, filled the entire the hall, at which time those other guys that were put out of the center demanded that inasmuch they were put out of the hall, those guys cannot be given access.”
Samuel Tokpah, who claimed to be a documented member of the CPP, said upon hearing the noise, they as community residents went to secure their vote.
After about 20 minutes of stone-throwing, resulting in the damaging of a police vehicle, the Liberia National Police were able to bring the situation under control, while the counting process continued.
Liberia Election Observation Network (LEON), a local election observation body that monitored 700 polling places across the country, said in a news conference yesterday, raised concern about the increasing tension and a high number of incidents in the process of elections compared to 2017.
LEON expresses concern over the seizure of ballot boxes from four polling places in Gbarpolu County on suspicion that people from Sierra Leone were coming to vote illegally. LEON has called on the National Election Commission (NEC) to provide a current update on the status of said ballot boxes.
Reading the statement on behalf of the LEON, Pilate Johnson, a representative of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), said: “From our observation up to press time, 20% of polling places opened late due to missing materials or late arrival of polling staff. In Precinct 30120, Duport Road Montserrado, four polling places did not open until noon, due to polling staff not having received their contracts from the NEC. In Gbartaoh Palava Hut, Montserrado district 17, all polling places received the wrong copies of the FRR. The correct copies reached them after 11.00 a.m., but LEON observers noted that most voters had already left.”
He said opening procedures were generally followed, although ballots were not counted in the presence of observers and party agents in 12% of polling places observed and the presiding officer did not complete the worksheet before opening the polls in 4% of polling places.
“LEON observed poor queue management in 28% of polling places observed,” Johnson said, “despite numbers in the queue being generally lower than in 2017 and it generally took around 5 minutes to process each voter.”
He said voter cards were not seen to be checked in 11% of polling places observed and the voter identification did not turn away voters whose thumb was already inked in 13% of polling places.
“People coming without a valid voter card and being allowed to vote were seen in 7% of polling places observed. These are important safeguards against multiple voting which could lead to challenges by political parties,” Johnson told journalists.
Johnson told Journalists that LEON observed CDC party agents in Barshell School, Montserrado District #3, beating a Presiding Officer after he asked them to leave the polling place for trying to coerce voters and threatening polling staff. “Police came to handle the situation but it is not yet clear if anyone has been arrested,” he added.
He also disclosed that LEON has been able to establish that vote-buying by people from the office of the County Superintendent of Grand Bassa who was seen giving money to voters in District 5, adding that the Presiding officer of Precinct 24123 in Margibi County, District 4, was observed telling people how to vote and CDC party agents in the same district were seen doing the same to voters in the queue.”
“CPP’s local leaders were seen campaigning in the voter queues in Grand Cape Mount District 3 precinct 12008 and River Gee District 1 precinct 42033,” Johnson said.
Mr. Harold Aidoo, Acting Chairman of the Election Coordinating Committee (ECC), gave a mid-day update that was received from 476 out of the 498 Rapid Response Observers, deployed to the polling places proportionally nationwide. “At polling precinct 30280, polling place #3 at the Messiah School System in Montserrado district #3, a voter who was initially issued two ballots (senatorial and referendum) later attempted to drop an extra senatorial ballot plus the referendum in the ballot box. When asked where he got the extra senatorial ballot, he accused the ballot paper issuer of giving it to him. However, he was later turned over to the police for further investigation.”
Adioo said at Precinct 30484, place 06 in Montserrado District #5, Observer confirmed that ballot paper issued 8 referendum ballots to voters that had 4 of the 8 prepositions missing before realizing the error.
He recommended that the NEC and Joint Security to speedy investigate where voters got these extra ballots from and take mitigation measures.