In the face of National Elections Commission (NEC) chairman Counselor Jerome George Korkoya’s bold-faced challenge that anyone claiming that he is an American citizen should take him to court, a human rights lawyer in the United States has obtained an authentic public record document from the year 2008 showing that Korkoya did in fact register to vote in the State of New Jersey.
The document, obtained on April 17, 2017 through a Freedom of Information request under the State of New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA), confirms that Jerome George Korkoya registered in that state as a member of the Democratic Party and voted on November 4, 2008 in the election that saw Democratic candidate Barack H. Obama emerge as President of the United States of America.
OPRA is a statute that guarantees that “government records shall be readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination by the citizens of this State, with certain exceptions, for the protection of the public interest, and any limitations on the right of access… shall be construed in favor of the public’s right of access,” according to the Act, in its Legislative policy declaration. Under the statute, however, access must be processed via the Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
The FOI request was filed to the Division of Elections in the New Jersey Department of State by Frederic A. Jayweh of the Africa Center for Law and Human Rights, who wrote:
“We are writing to request the citizenship and voting records of Mr. Jerome George Korkoya. We are humbly requesting: 1) Certificate of Naturalization of Mr. Jerome George Korkoya; 2) Voter Registration Card of Mr. Jerome George Korkoya; 3) And other Voting Records that your office has on Mr. Korkoya. We understand that Mr. Jerome George Korkoya voted in Willingboro City, New Jersey in 2008. Thanks.”
Jayweh’s request was responded to by a staffer from the Division of Elections, who was only able to provide a document titled, ‘Voter Profile’, regarding Korkoya. The document is linked below.
The Division of Elections staffer also informed Jayweh that “the other records requested are not maintained in this office. You will need to reach out to the [Burlington] County Superintendent of Elections.”
While the Division of Elections could not confirm Korkoya’s citizenship status as per Jayweh’s request, the New Jersey Department of State website requires that: “To register to vote in New Jersey you must be: A United States citizen; I am at least 17 years old, and understand that I may not vote until reaching the age of 18; A resident of the county for 30 days before the election; and You are NOT currently serving a sentence, probation or parole because of a felony conviction.”
The Jerome George Korkoya who voted in the 2008 US elections is believed to be the same Jerome George Korkoya, who now heads Liberia’s Elections Commission, a position which, according to the Liberian Constitution, he should be ineligible to hold.
While Cllr. Korkoya insists that the US citizenship allegations are nothing but a ‘smear campaign’ against him, several other persons including a number of civil society organizations and rights activists, among them Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe, said it would be better for Cllr. Korkoya to resign his post if it is true he holds foreign citizenship. Gongloe also noted that the NEC chair would be subject to perjury proceedings if it was confirmed that he holds foreign citizenship.
A few weeks ago, the Daily Observer inquired at the U.S. State Department, through the American Embassy in Monrovia, as to whether the Liberian government could request immigration status on persons of interest who have lived in the United States and are seeking political office (via appointment or election). The Embassy Public Diplomacy Director responded to our request, saying that the US government is restricted from disclosing such information due to privacy laws.
It is important to note that, although the New Jersey Department of State did not disclose Korkoya’s immigration status, per Jayweh’s request, the fact can be determined directly from the State’s voter eligibility requirements.
“Under Liberian laws, it is wrong for any Liberian to hold passports of two different countries, because this country does not allow dual citizenship,” Nimba County Senator Prince Johnson also said.
Meanwhile, opposition party, National Democratic Coalition (NDC), promised to institute legal action against Korkoya before the conduct of the October elections.
On a recent phone in radio show, Cllr. Korkoya challenged anyone who has valid evidence that he holds a US passport to take him to court. “One thing the detractors need to understand is that social media is not the court or any legal instrument to declare me guilty of any wrongdoing. I am a Liberian citizen and that is all I have to say,” he declared.
The Liberian Senate, which confirmed Korkoya as NEC chair, has failed to address the matter. Instead, they have reneged on their responsibility to correct the glaring mistake, by suggesting that the public take up the matter with Korkoya in court.