Will Ballots Get to Polling Centers in Time?

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Transport challenges during Liberia's rainy season include impassable roads like this one outside Zwedru (photo credit Natasha Rothchild).

The huge infrastructure deficit that Liberia faces, especially roads at this time of the year, is a huge worry for Maria Arena, head of the European Elections Observer Mission, who feels it would negatively impact the elections.

On her recommendation to major stakeholders in the electoral process, Madam Arena said “This is a Liberian process and it is left to Liberians to handle, but if I were to make any recommendation at any given day about the process, I would advise that the time from the election be changed from this period to the dry season.”

Changing the electoral timeframe to the dry season, she said, would help to make the process more participatory by making everyone throughout the country accessible. Sharing a similar concern was the National Democratic Institute which, in its Newsletter, termed the situation as a serious concern for the NEC.

Over six million ballots – 3 million presidential ballots printed in Slovenia, plus 3.1 million House of Representatives ballots printed in Ghana – have been printed, the Chief Observer noted.  While the presidential ballots arrived in the country last week, the legislative ballots finally arrived during the early hours of Thursday, October 5.

The NEC must now grapple with the challenge of distributing these ballots on a tight timeline and a worried NDI is trying to figure out how the NEC will overcome such a mammoth challenge.

Transport challenges during the country’s rainy season include impassable roads to the northwestern and southeastern counties, many of which are cut-off. The yearly road trouble takes a toll on fresh produce being conveyed to markets. However, this time around, the main concern is whether the ballot papers will reach Liberians at every polling center in the country in time for the much anticipated election day.

“UNMIL has committed itself to helping us transport some of our elections materials using their helicopters to few of the inaccessible parts of the country,” NEC Chairman Korkoya said at a press conference a few weeks ago.

Though Liberia is a small country, the logistics required to move goods across it — especially the election materials — are tedious, complex, costly. To get its job done, the NEC’s logistics plan for transporting polling materials from regional centers to polling places includes utilizing 73 trucks; 435 4×4 vehicles; 276 motorbikes; 2055 porters to walk across terrains unsuitable for vehicles; 530 tents; and 117 canoes.

In spite of the huge gesture from UNMIL, the major problem now is how to get the ballots to the various towns and villages after these have reached the provincial capitals and major cities.

An Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) official told the Daily Observer yesterday the challenge now is whether these contingency means would get to the various destinations during this time of the year with distressing logistical conditions. “This is one problem that most people are not looking at but it needs strong consideration. Our roads are deplorable and we must endeavor to solve the problem of getting the ballots to the people,” he said.

To reach some precincts, porters will have to carry election kits and ballot papers on treks that will last for days. UNMIL will airlift sensitive election materials to seven inaccessible parts of the country, including locations in Gbarpolu, Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Lower Lofa, Maryland, Lower Nimba and River Gee counties.

However, as the NDI observed, the physical distribution of election materials across Liberia is not the only challenge, the NEC must also deal with software, electronic, and legal issues. On September 20, the NEC announced that the Final Registration Roll (FRR) was complete and distributed electronic copies soon thereafter to political parties.

The final roll totals 2,183,629 voters. This new figure reflects the conduct of a set of integrity checks by the NEC, including a comprehensive manual verification of registration forms, the inclusion of 4,621 voters during the lost and damaged voters’ card replacement period, and the removal of 4,567 incidents of duplication.

Although regional NEC offices across the country have received electronic copies of the FRR as well, they still await delivery of a printed version.

The NEC indicated that 60,000 people responded to the NEC recruitment ads for poll workers for over 29,000 openings. The newly-hired staff are currently being trained on how to run 5390 polling places across the country.

In an effort to avoid confrontations during the campaign exercises, the LNP had earlier asked political parties to submit plans for campaign events in advance, and by asking parties to abide by a voluntary moratorium on large campaign events after October 4, when the LNP must begin deploying officers to remote locations for election duties. Very few parties submitted their campaign event schedules, and parties were unable to come to an agreement on the moratorium.

However, the violent clashes in Nimba and Montserrado counties could have been prevented with better communication from parties about their plans.

Non-interference

Madam Arena has also urged that international partners should have no business in meddling in the Liberian electoral process, rather they should simply observe how the process unfolds.

Underlining the objective of the mission’s work in the pending presidential and representative elections at a press conference a few weeks ago, Madam Arena, who is a European Parliamentarian, said, “The EU will observe the pre-election phase and on the day of the polls. We will stay in the country until the completion of a comprehensive assessment of the electoral process, including recommendations for future elections.”

“We keep to our mandate of non-interference and neutrality. Our mission here is to contribute to impartial and objective assessments to a democratic transition in Liberia. The outcome of the elections would be left with the country and its national institutions. We are not here to validate or certificate this election, but to observe and analyze the whole electoral process, including the legal framework, electoral administration, voter registration, nominations, campaigning, the conduct of the media, voting and the counting, the tallying of results and dispute resolution mechanisms,” she said.

 

13 COMMENTS

  1. If Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is really transparent she must seize the helicopter used by Joseph Boikai which was acquired with Liberian tax payers resources and use this helicopter to distribute ballot boxes across the country before polling day.

    The solution to the distribution of ballots on time is actually available in Liberia. There is no need for concern.

  2. ma people of Liberia, and the world: this election we should pray to God.because Liberia is the only country that we have, Liberia is our country,we need peace,love and understanding.and this coming election we Liberians we should votes wisely.

  3. Easy, retract the ballots on to a helicopter, if cannot cross. Put on the other side to other trucks empty and ready to destination. The next leader will take the rest of the road load.
    Do not contaminate this election process with stupid superfluous news.
    Do not reply this box. Let the Liberian majority know.

  4. Come on man! You do not necessary have to seize the helicopter being used by the V.P. because Ma Ellen did not contribute anything towards it. NEC should charter commercial airlines to speedily deliver those voting ballots.

  5. As election day quickly approaches, the question that boggles the minds of most Liberians if not all Liberias is this: Will ballots get to polling places on time?
    It is important to have this conundrum resolved as quickly as possible because every eligible voter is excited and would like to get it over with! However, there is a concern though.
    From the year 1847 when Liberia declared itself an independent nation, excuses have been given by government officials in order to escape being blamed. Example, there are two main seasons in Liberia, namely the dry and raining seasons. Usually during the raining season, streets develop potholes, sidewalks do not get managed at all, city dwellers suffer a shortage of food items and a host of other calamties. When one asks why roads cannot be fixed prior to or during the raining season, an “excuse” that typically sounds like this one is given…….it raining season.

    The hope is that ballots will be sent all over the country. Let’s wait and see.

  6. Thank you, TD, if presidential candidates are riding in helicopters to reach rural communities, UNMIL might as well help with helicopters for timely delivery of ballots. Crying over spilt milk, impassable roads, at this eleventh hour isn’t a solution.

  7. I don’t think that the entire stretch of feeder/dusty roads become impassable during the wet season. Why can’t they try and fix those problem spots on all the roads maybe by using concrete and crushed rocks or some other materials?

    We know the money to pave all those roads is not available,but they can at least fix those sections of the roads that pose the most problems during the raining season.

  8. Liberian voters should not vote for Unity Party for another 6 years after failing for 12 years. Giving a third term/chance should never be negotiable with a party that has failed you and left you in extreme poverty while building for themselves and their friends mansions, with fat bank accounts. Tribal, regional, and native criteria for presidency will promote hate and lead mama Liberia to underdevelopment. It’s better to vote in new party than voting in Unity Party. Vote wisely, this is your only chance you have to make change that will better all Liberians.

  9. Why is the UN, ECOWAS, or the Liberian Government not using helicopters to airlift these ballots to the People?

    If Weah and Boakai can afford to rent helicopters, the International Community and the outgoing Liberian administration should do better.

    Every Liberian citizen should be given the opportunity to exercise the right to vote.

  10. Insanity in Liberia is defined as: Liberian leaders doing the same old stupid thing over and over and they expect a different result.

    Liberians politicians neglect to fix roads leading to their constituencies, and they expect these interior roads to be passable during the raining season; most especially during this last minute election period.

    Liberian officials do not invest in their national teams (football, basketball, etc) but they expect the poorly trained players and athletes to excel in international competitions.

    Liberians voters have the tendency to vote for the same old do-nothing-corrupt politicians and sweet-talking lawmakers but these voters expect good performance from these corrupt politicians.

    Liberian leaders know Oct. 8th is in the latter part of the raining season but they won’t change the general election month from October to the first week in November and make the necessary contingency plans for a runoff in early December to accommodate a better dry season weather.

    However, our leaders will continue to complain about the poor voters’ turn out, or they will complain about the logistical problems in getting the ballot boxes to these difficult-to-reach places.

    The lack of contingency planning in Liberia is contagious. This was evident during the outbreak of Ebola, and other national crises such as beach erosions, fire disasters, and environmental pollution at the iron ore, gold and diamond mines. And now, the poor logistical planning is evident in the shipments of ballot boxes to the interior parts of Liberia.

    As the song says, “Blame it on the rain.” Blame the logistical nightmare on the bad roads in Liberia!!!

    This too is the insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result that is contagious in Liberia!!!!

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